© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A logo of Tesco is pictured outside a Tesco supermarket in Hatfield, Britain October 6, 2020. REUTERS/Peter Cziborra/File Photo

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Thousands of current and former employees of UK supermarket group Tesco (OTC:) on Thursday won the support of Europe’s top court in their fight for equal pay in a judgment that could affect other retailers.

Tesco found itself in the spotlight after about 6,000 current or former employees took their grievance to an employment tribunal in Watford, near London.

They argued the company’s shop workers – mostly women – had not received equal pay for equal work compared with its distribution workers – mostly men – since February 2018, in breach of EU and UK laws. The shop staff argued the firm should be seen as a single entity in terms of employment conditions.

Tesco had argued an EU law defining equal pay for equal work, or work of equal value, was not directly applicable in this case.

The UK tribunal sought guidance from the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice (CJEU), Europe’s highest, which rejected Tesco’s arguments.

“The principle, laid down by EU law, of equal pay for male and female workers can be relied upon directly, in respect both of ‘equal work’ and of ‘work of equal value’, in proceedings between individuals,” CJEU judges said.

Tesco said the jobs in its stores and distribution centres were different and hence the different pay.

“These roles require different skills and demands which lead to variations in pay – but this has absolutely nothing to do with gender,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.

“We reward our colleagues fairly for the jobs they do and work hard to ensure that the pay and benefits we offer are fair, competitive and sustainable. These claims are extremely complex and will take many years to reach a conclusion. We continue to strongly defend these claims,” she said.

The Watford tribunal will now have to take the CJEU ruling into account when it decides on the case.

The CJEU said it had jurisdiction over the case in accordance with Britain’s withdrawal deal with the EU.

The CJEU ruling is final and cannot be appealed. The case C-624/19 Tesco Stores.

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