Preston & Ors v Wolverhampton Health Care NHS Trust & Ors
Fletcher & Ors v Midland Bank Plc (IDS Brief 584, March 1997, Court of Appeal)

Part-time workers seeking back dated equal pension rights have received no comfort from the Court of Appeal. While there was celebration when part-time workers won the right not to be discriminated against in pension schemes it is the next generation which will benefit.

Since pension rights become valuable by building up over time, in order to gain equality for part-time workers now, they need to back date pension scheme membership to the date of discrimination. But UK law only allows backdating in equal pay claims for 2 years from the date of the claim and that claims cannot be brought later than 6 months from the end of the contract of employment which breached the right to equal pay.

Yet many people only realised that they might have a claim for pension rights in September 1996 following the European Court of Justice six-pack of part time pension rights cases. They started cases within 3 or 6 months of this judgment.

The TUC has therefore backed a number of test cases to seek to improve the position of part timers (see Issue 2 of LELR: Time's up at six months). Nearly 60,000 cases have been lodged in the Industrial Tribunal on behalf of part time workers who have, at some stage during their employment, been denied access to an occupational pension scheme.

The Court of Appeal has upheld the finding of the Employment Appeal Tribunal which ruled that the two year restriction on back pay in the Equal Pay Act is not in breach of community law. It also ruled that it was not unlawful for claims to be allowed only within 6 months of the ending of a contract of employment.

Even though most individuals were ignorant of their rights before the cases in September 1996, the court held that this was no basis for extending the time limit to allow the claims to be considered. This judgment is disappointing and the parties are appealing to the House of Lords to seek a reference to Europe on the points raised.

Watch this space.