Solicitors are exploring the possibility of legal action against a major supermarket because of plans to exclude its Northern Irish workforce from a UK-wide wage rise.
The Unite union said that Northern Irish staff working for Lidl are being treated as “second-class citizens”, while the DUP accused the firm of “discrimination”.
Lidl last week announced plans to pay a “living wage” to staff in England, Scotland and Wales from November.
Susan Fitzgerald, regional officer for Unite, said wages for Northern Irish staff begin at roughly £7.50 per hour.
In November, Lidl will increase the mainland UK staffs’ hourly rate to £8.20 (and £9.35 in London).
Unite estimates that this will average out as a pay boost of about £1,200 per year for each worker.
“There’s no proposal to raise this at all here,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
“There’s no moral or legal argument that we can see for doing that. So our members are understandably incredibly angry about this.”
She said she has written to Lidl about it, but there has been no response so far.
Asked if they are considering mounting a legal challenge, she said: “We have our solicitors working on this at the moment.”
The company has said that there are two independent entities – one called Lidl GB and one called Lidl NI.
Ms Fitzgerald argued that, despite any legal differences, Lidl is still recognised as a single “brand” across the UK.
Lidl has around 600 staff in Northern Ireland.
Earlier in the week, DUP North Down MLA Peter Weir said he was “shocked and dismayed” at the firm’s move.
“This is blatant discrimination against hard-working staff in their local stores and there can be no justification for it,” he said.
“There is no reason why Lidl workers in Bangor, Belfast or anywhere else in Northern Ireland, should be paid any less than their counterparts in Birmingham, Edinburgh or Swansea.”
He added that the chain “wouldn’t dare make a case for paying workers less in Scotland or parts of northern England”.
The News Letter asked Lidl what the rationale for the decision to pay different rates was, but it did not answer.
Nor did it give details about the current pay arrangements for Northern Irish staff.
The only wage difference recognised by the Living Wage Foundation (LWF) is between the UK-wide pay rate and the London-based pay rate – with no other variations across the nation.
The supermarket said: “Lidl is proud to have an exceptional team who are instrumental in driving the success of the company, and we acknowledge their valued contribution by paying wages which are amongst the best in the sector...
“Lidl NI continues to monitor all discussions and proposals in relation to the living wage in Northern Ireland and will review and update accordingly when required.”
WHAT IS THE ‘LIVING WAGE’?
Lidl’s planned increase over most of the UK is in line with an expected increase in the “living wage” rate, as calculated by the Living Wage Foundation (LWF).
LWF is a campaigning charity, which calculates what the minimum wage should be to allow workers to enjoy what it calls “a minimum acceptable standard of living”.
The Government announced what it dubbed “a National Living Wage” during the Summer Budget, which see the minimum legal hourly rate rise from £6.50 to £7.20.
This is totally different to the LWF’s own calculations, and essentially just renames the current National Minimum Wage as the National Living Wage.