Approximately 2,000 Next staff have won a “crucial stage” of their legal dispute to win equal pay with their counterparts in warehouses in a legal first.

An employment tribunal ruled yesterday that three women acting as ‘lead claimants’ for all the former and current Next store staff pursuing the case did work of equal value to the jobs of the men in the warehouse that they compared themselves with.

According to law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the store staff, the judgement means that having won two of the three stages the legal process involves, “the burden now shifts to Next who must prove that although the work is equal there is a non-discriminatory reason allowing them to pay their sales consultants and warehouse staff differently”.

Leigh Day said the case is the first national equal pay group claim of its type to secure an equal value ruling. The law firm is involved in similar cases involving 85,000 supermarket workers at Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Co-op, none of which have yet gone through the first two stages.

The Next case was originally launched in 2018 and the third stage hearing is anticipated to happen in March 2024. In the event that the store staff win then, Leigh Day said they would be entitled to receive the difference in their pay and the warehouse operatives’ pay going back up to six years from when they started their claims and that contracts would be automatically modified to include equal terms in future.

Leigh Day barrister and partner Elizabeth George said: “We are delighted that our Next clients have won this crucial battle. It is a legal win, obviously, but it means a great deal more than that to the people bringing these claims.

“The sales consultants, overwhelmingly women, had been told by Next that their work is not as demanding as the warehouse operatives’ work and so does not attract equal pay and other benefits currently denied to them.

“The employment tribunal has found, unanimously, that the work is equal. The end is now in sight for the sales consultants after a battle lasting five years.”

No comment was immediately available from Next.