Hundreds of Co-op shop floor staff have launched an equal pay claim against the supermarket with some employees allegedly owed £10,000.
More than 400 staff, mostly women, claim that they are paid less than men who work in Co-op warehouses even though their jobs are of equal value.
Law firm Leigh day, which is representing the group, argues that the difference in pay is discriminatory and says up to 50,000 current and former Co-op employees could be entitled to bring a claim.
Shop floor staff are paid between £1.50 and £3 per hour less than colleagues working in depots and distribution centres.
The law firm estimates that an average Co-op shop floor worker could be due £10,000 if the claim is successful.
Co-op supermarket worker Christine Green, aged 57, of Pointon, Lincolnshire, was one of the women to start the equal pay case.
Ms Green said: “I enjoy working at the Co-op, it’s a great place to have a job. But the way I look at it, those of us who work ‘front-of-house’ on the shop floor, deserve a fair wage for what we do.
“And to my mind, that means equal pay with those workers in the distribution warehouses. In our jobs we are under constant pressure; I want equal pay for everyone working front-of-house. The Co-op needs to ask, are we being fair to all the people we are employing?”
Michael Newman, a partner in the employment team at Leigh Day, said: “In the stores women are more routinely employed to work on the shop floor and deal with customers. Those working in the warehouses are overwhelmingly men.
“Despite equal pay laws being in place for almost 50 years, the group that is mostly men gets paid more. We say this cannot be lawful.
“Our clients believe that the jobs have comparable demands, and similar responsibilities. Co-op rely on both the male and female workers to make sure that they can sell as much food to their customers as possible, and the female workers have the additional responsibility of dealing with the public. This case is not about whether the jobs are identical; it is saying they are of equal value.”
It is the latest round in a wave of equal pay claims against big retailers including Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury's and Morrisons.
A claim against Asda cleared a legal hurdle last week when a tribunal dismissed the company’s argument that shop floor workers were not required to have any particular knowledge about products in order to do their jobs.