What a brilliant few months it has been for us supermarket haters.
A truly golden era for those of us who would rather walk down the Shankill Road wearing a Celtic top than spend a Saturday pushing a rickety trolley around a packed soulless megastore trying to avoid stray toddlers.
In September, Tesco announced that they had overstated their half yearly profits by just over £250 million. A substantial sum, even for a premier league footballer. That was grossly negligent (if we’re being kind) or potentially fraudulent (if we’re not). The news prompted a investigation by the Financial Conduct Authority and wiped billions off the value of the company whose share price went down faster than Oprah Winfrey on a death slide.
Of more concern was the reason behind the “error”, which was to mask the effects of a huge reduction in Tesco’s market share. It lost 5% in the last year, largely due to competiton from Aldi and Lidl. Tesco were hiding the fact they were living on past glories having been out-thought and outperformed by German rivals. They have become the retail equivalent of our national football team.
Life’s not a whole lot better over at Sainsburys. They’ve always been a bit useless (imagine Waitrose dropped on its head as a baby) but they have also been seriously squeezed in a super competitive retail market. A recently announced second quarter drop in sales saw its share price fall by over 6 %. A thorough strategic review is planned for November. It’s long overdue.
Asda, effecively global retail giant Walmart’s UK operation, are the latest of the Big Four to hit trouble. They have been the subject of a huge employment law claim by 19,000 of their female employees based at their UK distribution centres.
The women are part of a group action brought by UK law firm Leigh Day throughout the UK. These sex descrimination claims are being made with reference to equal pay legislation, notably the requirement that employees in the same company, doing work of equal value, should receive equal pay. The women in question are mainly check-out staff and shelf-stackers and are paid less than their colleagues in the warehouse, mainly men, whose work involves a greater degree of heavy manual handling and lifting.
The difference in the hourly rate of pay has varied by as much as £4 per hour and, with claims backdated for a period of 6 years, the potential impact on a company with over 2 million employees worldwide is enormous.
These Walmart Wage Warriors are looking to follow in the famous footsteps of the legendary Dagenham Girls whose fight against another US multi-national, Ford, became the subject of a hit movie and a west end musical and paved the way for the Equal Pay Act in 1970.
Walmart have been quick to label the allegations unfounded and have pointed out their excellent record on equality and promoting woman in the workplace, yet to those who follow the company’s fortunes the claims will come as no surprise.
Walmart are no strangers to allegations of misconduct indeed they’ve been in a long term relationship for some considerable time. The company has been involved in wage law irregularities, environmental breaches, anti-competitive practices and the type of anti-union activity that, some might say, would not have looked out of place in Nazi Germany.
Their misdemeanours have included:
Being found guilty in the German Supreme Court of a low cost pricing strategy designed to undermine competiton and obtain an unfair market advantage.
Closing a store in Quebec which became successfully unionised citing “economic factors” before being found guilty of reprisals against unionised workers by the Quebec Labor Board.
Paying over $350 million to settle a group action involving workers being forced to work unpaid or “off the clock”. It was described at the time as the world’s largest ever settlement for wage violations.
Getting fined $82 million after being found guilty of dumping hazardous waste into sanitation drains across California.
There are numerous other examples.
Walmart are a ruthless profit making machine who stop at nothing to achieve global dominance but this time they are up against the indomitable spirit of hard working UK women who feel hard done by.
It’s the irresistible force meets the immovable object. Seconds out! Let battle commence! There’s sure to be blood on the canvas and, given the run of luck our supermarkets are having, I don’t expect it to be female.