On the problem of the Tesco pay gap

An Analogy to Start

From what I have seen, the publishing industry in the UK is overwhelmingly female. If that is incorrect, I will take back this analogy and find a more appropriate one, but it certainly seems to me to be the case that the workforce in publishing is, by far, mostly women. I’m not sure why that is, nor do I have a problem with it, though it would be interesting to research and explore into how it ended up that way. I doubt foul play, though foul play is one of the ways that different distributions come about.

Let’s imagine I work at a publishing company in the UK, as a receptionist essentially, working in the office and doing admin. I’m male. Every day at work, I see literary agents working alongside me, in the same exact building no less, and they are getting paid more money than I am. Almost all of them are women. I am being paid less than they are. Yet, we are both working here. In this company, agents are paid more than receptionists. In this company, women are paid more than men. That causes outrage in me, and I campaign against the gender pay bias in this publishing company. It is outrageous that women workers as literary agents in the company get paid more than their male counterparts at the reception desk. This is sexism, even in the year 2018. This company should spend the next few years embroiled in being sued for paying men less than women for doing the same job. I do not see why a literary agent should be considered a different job than a receptionist at a publishing company. I deal with all kinds of paperwork, I deal with phone calls and interactions with budding authors impatient for a response or offended at a rejection. I come in at 9 and I leave at 5. So they read immense volumes of pages of potential novels, works, poems, and have to edit, critique, and parse – I read complaint letters, and emails. We do the same job. This is outrageous. Women are being paid more than men in 2018 for doing the same job.


Are there any problems with my logic here? Am I making a fair assessment of the situation? Or am I conflating a number of things, making leaps that are not rational? Am I being paid less than women, or am I being paid less than literary agents? Am I being paid less than the agents in the company who are male? Am I being paid the same as other receptionists in the company who are female? Are the jobs of receptionist at a publishing company and literary agent at a publishing company the same job? Are women being paid more than men in this company simply because they are women and not men?

The Tesco Pay Gap

I actually did work for Tesco, from summer of 2015 to summer of 2016, working in the store on the grocery section, as well as other roles. I was a member of staff, so there were people above me – leaders of certain store sections, supervisors, assistant managers, managers – who all got paid more than I did. But, per hour, I was paid the same as all other staff who were the same kind of employee as I was, black or white, young or old, male or female. Any difference in our monthly or yearly earnings was down to our contracts and how many hours we worked per day, per week, per month.

Away from the store, performing different tasks in a different job, were other employees of Tesco, working in the distribution warehouses. I was being paid just under £8 per hour in the store. They in the warehouse were being paid more than I was. Men in the warehouse were being paid more than male me in the store was; women in the warehouse were being paid more than male me in the store was; workers in the warehouse were being paid more than workers in the store. Black or white, young or old, male or female.

In the last day or two, there has been media coverage of an equal pay claim launched against Tesco. At heart, it is arguing that workers in the warehouse do not deserve more pay than workers in the stores – true or false, a valid position that is reasonable to raise and debate. And yet, this is absolutely not how it likes to present itself or be presented as, either on its own website, in interviews, or in the media coverage.

This legal claim and its proponents and supporters like to pretend that it is feminism, and that it is the continuation of the fight for the rights of women and girls. What could be an interesting debate over the equivalence of working in a Tesco warehouse and working in a Tesco store is having gender forced into it, and the many articles in the media covering this story show that clearly:

From The Guardian

“Lawyers say female shopfloor workers earn up to £3 an hour less than male warehouse staff” – here it is implied that either the shops are entirely female and the warehouses entirely male, or that females in the shops get less than males in the warehouses, while males in the shops do not get less.

“A law firm has launched legal action on behalf of nearly 100 shop assistants who say they earn as much as £3 an hour less than male warehouse workers in similar roles.” – they also earn as much as £3 an hour less than female warehouse workers, yet that is absent, and the mention of male implies the sexism that isn’t present.

“… the shopworkers’ right to compare their jobs to employees – mainly men – working in distribution centres”  – the inclusion of “mainly men.”

From the BBC

“The most common rate for women is £8 an hour whereas for men the hourly rate can be as high as £11 an hour, she added.” – the most common rate for store staff is £8 an hour whereas for warehouse staff the hourly rate can be as high as £11 an hour. They are absolutely trying to shove away the details and get people thinking that the only difference here is gender. The most common rate for women working in the warehouses can be as high as £11 an hour, whereas the most common rate for men working in the stores is £8 an hour.

“In terms of equal worth to the company there really should be no argument that workers in stores, compared to those working in the depots, contribute at least equal value to the vast profits made by Tesco…. Two workers for Tesco told the BBC they wanted fair treatment, arguing that their jobs in the stores were as demanding as warehouse jobs.” – Here, here is the issue. Here they have forgotten to force gender into the sentences, and what comes out is the debate that should be had.

From UK Reuters

“… a record equal pay claim involving mainly women workers” – mainly women who are making the claim, because of the framing of the issue, yet (as we will see later) this “mainly women in stores, mainly men in warehouses” is in every article, post, and tweet, yet is fairly unsubstantiated (though it may be true – evidence, as well as clarification of “mainly”, needed first, however).

“Law firm Leigh Day said on Wednesday the mainly male employees in Tesco’s distribution centres were paid considerably more than its largely female store workers.” – Again, the “mainly” issue, and now the “largely” female. Take the gender out the sentence and you have an accurate description of the actual fundamental legal claim.

“Unequal pay for men and women is currently a hot topic” – A forced topic, at least in this case.

“The law firm said Tesco distribution centre staff may earn in excess of 11 pounds an hour, while the most common grade for store staff saw them receive around 8 pounds per hour. This disparity could see a full time distribution worker on the same hours earning over 100 pounds a week – or 5,000 pounds a year – more than store staff.” Once again, the argument is clear and the debate is ready when gender has been removed, or simply not forced in in the first place.

From Stourbridge News

“Law firm Leigh Day has launched legal action against the company on behalf of nearly 100 shop assistants who claim they are paid up to £3 an hour less than their male warehouse workers” – From merely “shop assistants” to “male warehouse workers”.

From the Irish Examiner

“The UK supermarket is facing a potential bill of up to £4bn to bring the wages of its female employees into line with men” – No. No, we have seen that that is absolutely not what this is about. It is about bringing the wages of Tesco’s store workers into line with its warehouse workers.

“Leigh Day said mainly male staff in the company’s distribution centres were paid considerably more than its largely female store workers. It said Tesco distribution centre staff may earn over £11 an hour, while most store staff received around £8.” – An interesting two versions of the story, within the same article and from the same source, literally one sentence after the other. Which is the information, and which is the manipulation?

From Sky News

“The law firm said the complaint against Tesco centres on allegations that store assistants have been paid £3 an hour, or £5,000 a year, less than their male warehouse counterparts, who are on around £11 an hour for essentially the same role.” – Just remove the word “male”, and, with gender not forced in, the issue is laid out sincerely. Never mind the other issue of this constant assumption that warehouse work is the same – that, as has been said, is another conversation.

“The law firm’s Paula Lee, who is representing the Tesco workers, said: “We believe an inherent bias has allowed store workers to be underpaid for many years. In terms of equal worth to the company there really should be no argument that workers in stores, compared to those working in distribution centres, contribute at least equal value to the vast profits made by Tesco, which last year had group sales of £49.9bn.”” – Here is the lawyer herself, forgetting temporarily to go out of her way to bring gender into an issue that isn’t gendered.

From The Daily Mail

“Warehouse staff get around £5000 more than checkout staff a year” – Plain, truthful, and simple.

“Staff who work on checkouts and stack shelves say they should be paid the same as men in warehouses who get around £5000 more a year.” – From “Staff who work on checkouts” to “men in warehouses”.

“Leigh Day, the law firm acting on behalf of 100 female Tesco workers, say the warehouse jobs which are largely held by men should be viewed as equivalent to shop floor roles, the majority of which are taken by women.” – And yet, surely, those 100 women are wanting to be viewed as equivalent to all the women in the warehouses too, and taking to task the pay of women who earn more than their female selves for what they describe as the same job?

“However, analysts at HSBC said: ‘This is not a gender pay issue. Tesco, like Sainsbury, Asda and all retailers, pays the same for the same experience and the same work, regardless of gender.” – Finally, a mention of some critique and counter.

From the Huffington Post

“Warehouse staff earn up to £3 an hour more. The women’s lawyers have accused Tesco, which employs 250,000 people in its UK stores, of an “inherent bias”” – An inherent bias surrounding pay-attitudes to different jobs within the company. The message that appears when gender is appropriately absent from the sentence.

“Kim Element, 56, who has worked at Tesco for 23 years, said she felt “beyond disappointed” and “a lot of sadness” after learning warehouse staff earned more.” – And not upon learning that men earned more.

“”…the Equality Act only requires a claimant can compare themselves to a member of the opposite sex earning more in a role they believe is of equal value to theirs. The law is there. It’s inviting you to compare your job, be you a man or woman, but obviously comparing it with someone of the opposite sex, to a role that is similar in terms of demand.”” – Why is it “obviously” comparing yourself to someone of the opposite sex, and not just somebody else in the same company being paid more than you for doing what you consider to be the same amount of work? They are forcing the issue, forcing the comparison, forcing the split, forcing the animosity.

Also from the Huffington Post, we learn this piece of information:

“Law firm Leigh Day has estimated Tesco’s shop floor staff are between 60% and 65% female. Paula Lee, who is representing the Tesco women, added the warehouses are “predominantly” male but said they did not have more detailed figures on them.”

This pertains to the “mainly” issue that I mentioned above. When I hear that X are overwhelmingly, largely, mainly, predominantly present somewhere, I tend to imagine a percentage of X more along the lines of at least 75%, 80%, 85% and higher. The fact that the maximum is 65%, and it could be only 60%, and even that is just an estimate, and the fact that they could not produce even an estimate for the warehouses, belies just how empty of substance, clarity, nuance, and weight this all is.

From the media, to the very website of the firm launching this claim (Leigh Day):

Compare this from the launch announcement:

“Lawyers argue that employees working in the predominantly male dominated distribution centres are paid considerably more than the largely female staffed Tesco stores, and may earn in excess of £11.00 an hour whilst the most common grade for store staff sees them receive around £8.00 per hour.”

“This disparity could see a full time distribution worker on the same hours earning over £100 a week, or £5000 a year more than female based store staff.”

To this from the Tesco Equal Pay Claim page:

“Leigh Day is currently bringing a claim on behalf of Tesco store workers for equal pay. We are doing so to promote equality and challenge how large retailers pay their employees in different areas of their business.

Who can claim? 
Anyone, female or male, who has worked at a Tesco store in England or Wales in the last six years, or Scotland in the last five years.”

From concentration on the conflict between men and women, and a disparity brought about by gender difference, to the stating that gender does not matter at all for making this claim, and that the issue is equal pay for store workers relative to employees in different areas of Tesco.

Front page, and centre? Gender. The issue? Not gender.

Abusing Feminism

It would be really interesting to have this debate over whether these two, different jobs – of working in the warehouse, and working in the store – can be considered equivalent to the point of equal pay. My initial reaction, flexible in the wake of debate, and based on having worked in one of those positions at Tesco for a year, is that the warehouse workers should have a higher wage. Maybe another essay is needed to explain why I think that, and to perhaps convince myself otherwise through research and thinking out loud. What would also be interesting, as with my publishing industry analogy at the start, would be to explore why warehouses are (if they are) predominantly male and why stores are (if they are) predominantly female, even when both jobs are open to all. But alas, an interesting topic has been comprehensively hijacked.

This is use and abuse of feminism and the fight for the rights of women and girls, and, for that reason, it is disgraceful, and disgusting. The manipulation of feminist sentiment is clear and abundant, including, by proponents and supporters, references to suffragettes gaining the right of women to vote as a comparison point. Utilising the reactionary, instant-share nature of social-media to cause gender grievance and conflict where it needn’t be. Cue those who consider themselves skeptical and open-minded commenting without hesitation for any consideration or further reading and investigation, or consideration of any critique or other argument. Cue the barreling forward, mouths open and eyes closed. You risk a fatal trampling if you place your placard aside for a moment to look for truth so you can do the most good going forward. At least, that’s what they like you to believe. Place your placard down for a second, even if you ultimately take essentially the same message back up in arms afterward, and watch what happens. The herd will attack and come crashing terrifyingly toward you… and break upon you, as if they were made of merely the thinnest pane of glass.

It is appalling that feminism is being hidden under and behind and worn in this way. With this pay gap claim centred falsely on gender, Tesco have not done anything wrong.

One thought

  1. A way Tesco can save £££££££ shop staff go the w/hose and save 3£ a hour I think the women will love it
    It’s the same work is it no!
    Men and women chose the work and the pay and condtions +90% workplace death is male?


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