Matthews and others v Kent and Medway Towns Fire Authority and others
House of Lords
Part-time workers’ pension rights
Matthews and others v Kent and Medway Towns Fire Authority is the test case on the Part-time Workers Regulations 2000 brought by retained firefighters alleging they have been less favourably treated than full-time firefighters.
The House of Lords allowed the claim to proceed after having previously been rejected by the tribunal, the EAT and the Court of Appeal.
The firefighters claimed they had been unlawfully discriminated against by being denied access to the Fireman’s Pension Scheme, as well as their treatment with regard to arrangements for sick pay and increased pay for additional responsibilities. The Court of Appeal had rejected their claim on the basis that although the retained and full-time firefighters are employed under the same type of contract for the purposes of the regulations, they do not do the “same or broadly similar work”.
This was because, in addition to fighting fires and responding to other emergencies, the full-time firefighters, unlike the part-timers, carried out other job functions, including educational, preventive and administrative tasks. The full-timers had a ‘fuller wider job’ than the part-timers, who were only called upon to respond to fires and other emergencies.
Tribunals comparing jobs should look at the work done by both groups as a whole, considering similarities and differences. The question is not whether it is different, but whether it is broadly similar.
The extent to which the work that they do is exactly the same is vital. If much of it is exactly the same, are any differences so important as to prevent it being regarded as ‘the same or broadly similar’?
What you should do
Appreciate that this decision will make it easier for part-time workers to compare themselves with full-time workers for the purposes of seeking equal treatment under the Part-time Workers Regulations.
Be careful if you have a situation where full- and part-timers do the same work, but the full-timers have extra activities which fill their time. This will not necessarily prevent their work being the same or broadly similar overall.
When comparing roles, you need to give particular weight to the extent to which the full- and part-time work is in fact the same, and to the importance of that work to your organisation. If you fail to do that, you risk giving too much weight to differences which are the inevitable result of one worker working full-time and another working less than full-time.