Ruling gives permanent rights to fixed-term staff

Thousands of fixed-term contractors could be entitled to the same benefits as staff on permanent contracts when it comes to redundancy payments, following a landmark tribunal decision.

Last week, the South London Employment Tribunal ruled that the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) would have to pay significant redundancy payments to four education advisers if it does not keep them on new contracts after March 2006.

The decision follows claims brought against the DfES under the Fixed Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002, which seek to prevent people working on fixed-term contracts from being treated worse than their permanent counterparts.

It means the DfES will have to retain the claimants in permanent positions when their existing fixed-term contracts come to an end or make redundancy payments based on the Civil Service compensation scheme.

Clive Howard, employment partner at Russell Jones and Walker, who represented the four workers, said employers should be wary of the regulations as they were now “potentially very valuable” for staff on fixed-term contracts.

“This [case] is a wake-up call,” he told Personnel Today. “Hopefully, this will remind people that the regulations are out there.

“Employers should review the contracts people are on. If they are on a succession of fixed-term contracts, why are they on them?” said Howard.
“Perhaps the lesson is to make sure that people are employed on the right type of contracts,” he added.

The workers, who do not wish to be named, are members of the FDA union, which represents senior managers and professionals in public service.

John Merson, pensions officer at the FDA, said the case called into question the use of fixed-term contracts within the Civil Service.

“This is a landmark decision for the public sector and particularly the Civil Service, and it is also a resounding defeat for the department concerned,” he said.

“I expect Civil Service Pensions and the Cabinet Office to take note of this judgment and come forward with amendments to the compensation scheme,” he said. “This [is essential to] ensure that those on fixed-term contracts no longer suffer discrimination on severance.”

By Helen Gilbert

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