ordinated by the TUC on behalf of 60,000 part-time workers claiming backdated pensions rights. It is not certain whether judgement will be made the same day.
The TUC-co-ordinated claims are on behalf of teachers and health, bank and shop workers and were first lodged in November 1994. The workers are hoping to win a total of£95m in compensation.
The Birmingham tribunal ruled that backdated compensation should be limited to just two years and that claims could only be made within six months of the worker leaving the job. The TUC argued that this was unfair because these workers were not aware at the time that the law was going to change, and therefore did not make claims. The TUC also argued that compensation should reflect the actual years worked rather than a nominal two years. The TUC mounted an appeal against this decision and took the case to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
The Conservative government's Occupational Pensions Schemes (Equal Treatment) Regulations 1995 introduced a two year limitation for backdated pension claims. The same limitation exists in the Equal Pay Act 1970 for all backdated equal pay claims.
In June 1996, in a 54-page judgement - the longest ever made by the
Employment Appeal Tribunal - President Mr Justice Mummery dealt the part-timers a hard blow when he ruled against referring their claims to the ECJ in Luxembourg. He also ruled most of the claims made by the part-timers out of time because they were not lodged within six months of leaving their employment, even though this was before the ECJ ruling.
The EAT also upheld the Birmingham industrial tribunal's decision to limit claims for backdated compensation to two years. Around 10,000 part-timers, whose claims were not ruled out of time, could be entitled to backdated pensions compensation worth up to nearly£16m.
TUC general secretary John Monks described the EAT decision at the time as 'a classic case of blaming the victims and letting unfair bosses off the hook. Only Mystic Meg could have been expected to know she should submit a claim for pensions descrimination before the European court ahd made its ruling. We now have a situation were employers who have been found guilty of treating part-timers unfairly are being let off on a technicality.'
Following the decision the TUC decided to take the campaign to the Court of Appeal in the hope that it would allow the case to be heard in Europe. But the part-timers' hopes were once more dashed when in February 1997 the Court of Appeal decided not to refer the main legal points in the claims back to the ECJ.
Expressing its disappointment at the Court of Appeal decision, the TUC
decided to take a further appeal to the House of Lords. It is this appeal which is being heard on January 19.
The TUC is optmistic about the outcome of the Lords' hearing following an ECJ ruling on a similar case in December 1997. Then, Ms Magorrian from Northern Ireland claimed that it was discriminatory to limit her pension claim to two years. The ECJ has supported this view and the Government will have to look at UK legislation with a view to removing this discriminatory limitation. It is likely that the Law Lords will rule that the ECJ judgement in the Magorrian case applies to the TUC cases. That leaves the question of the six month time limit outstanding.
There is also another case awaiting an ECJ ruling, the Levez case, which will look at the issue of the time limits for presenting claims. This could affect the Lords' decision on the time limits issue, so the House of Lords may stay its judgement on this issue until the outcome of that case.
If, as expected, the House of Lords rules in favour of the part-time workers, it could still be a couple of years before any of the 60,000 individuals receives compensation. Some employers will simply accept the ruling and make arrangements to compensate their employees but others may insist that an individual's claim is taken through an industrial tribunal.
The TUC took on the cases as part of its campaign to win fair treatment for part-time workers. In December 1997, following succesful negotiations between the European trade unions and employers - at which the TUC and the CBI were represented - the Social Affairs Council adopted as a Directive their Agreement giving equal rights to part-time workers, which will become law in Britain under the Social Chapter by the end of 1999.