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FULL EMPLOYMENT PROTECTION FOR 'CASUAL WORKER': COUNTY REFUSED PERMISSION TO APPEAL FURTHER

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A 65-year-old home tutor today struck a blow for workers' rights which could cost local authorities and other emplo...
A 65-year-old home tutor today struck a blow for workers' rights which could cost local authorities and other employers - both in the private and public sector - millions.

Appeal Court judges ruled that Margaret Prater had been 'continuously employed' by Cornwall CC over a 10-year period and rejected the council's plea that she had been no more than a 'casual worker'.

The court's landmark decision means that Mrs Prater - and thousands of other 'intermittent and occasional' staff - will have full employment protection, including holiday and sickness pay and numerous other rights that go with 'employee' status.

Lord Justice Mummery said Mrs Prater, of Garfam, Trethurgy, near St Austell, whose case was backed by the National Union of Teachers, had worked for the council between 1988 and 1998 as a home tutor.

She was given assignments to teach individual pupils and there was no 'contractual obligation' for the council to offer her work or for her to accept jobs. However, once she took on a new pupil, Mrs Prater treated herself as having 'undertaken a commitment'.

Specialising in teaching biology, she tutored a number of different pupils every week, teaching some of them for up to 10 hours weekly, and some of her engagements lasted several years.

Mrs Prater still works for the council but, since 1998 when she signed a contract, Cornwall has accepted she is an employee, with all the rights - including holiday and sick pay - that go with that status.

In May 2004, she wrote to the council claiming she had been 'continuously employed' since 1988, but the council insisted she was a 'casual worker' who had taken on a series of short, fixed term and discrete teaching jobs on an ad hoc basis.

An Employment Tribunal later backed Mrs Prater's case and, despite the council's plea that the ruling was 'wrong in law', it was upheld today by Lord Justice Mummery, sitting with Lord Justice Longmore and Mr Justice Lewison.

The judge said: 'In my judgement, the employment tribunal was entitled in law to hold that there had was mutuality of obligation in the individual contracts between the council and Mrs Prater; that they were contracts of service'.

The relationship between Mrs Prater and the council between 1988 and 1998 passed the threshold of an 'irreducable minimum mutual obligation necessary to create a contract of service', thus giving her full employment rights, the judge ruled.

Mr Adam Heppinstall, for the council, told the judges the case raised issues of 'general public importance' on a point of law which had not previously been decided.

The facts of the case were 'commonplace in the public and private sectors' and Cornwall CC was 'unprepared for the substantial burden of according full employment rights' to those like Mrs Prater, the barrister added.

Lord Justice Mummery recognised the importance of the case, but nevertheless refused the county council permission to appeal further to the House of Lords. The council can, however, petition the Law Lords directly for an appeal hearing.

In his judgement, Lord Justice Mummery said the 'test case' raised an issue of 'general interest' on whether workers like Mrs Prater - who take on individual assignments under a successfion of separate contracts - are entitled to be treated as 'employees'.

'Complex patterns of contracts for work are by no means confined to the staffing practices of local education authorities. They are common in many public sector and private sector workplaces, which are increasingly populated by intermittent and occasional staff working alongside full time employees,' the judge observed.

'The true legal character of the contracts and of the legal relationship created by them is a matter of serious concern to the parties, as the scope of statutory employment protection depends on whether a person performs work under a contract of service or under some other kind of arrangement'.

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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