The Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000, which came into force on 1 July 2000, established a minimum standard of fairness for part-timers so that they cannot be treated less favourably than comparable full-time co-workers, unless the treatment is justified on objective grounds.
A comparable full-time worker must work in the same establishment as the part-timer, be engaged in broadly similar work and work under the same type of contract.
A test case on what is required in order to make a part-time worker comparable with a full-timer has now been decided by the House of Lords.
The case was brought by a group of part-time (or retained) firefighters who were claiming parity of terms of employment with their full-time colleagues (regular firefighters). They claimed that they were treated less favourably in that they were denied access to statutory pension arrangements, were denied increased pay for additional responsibilities and their sick pay arrangements were less favourable.
The Court of Appeal judged the Employment Tribunal (ET) and the Employment Appeal Tribunal to have been wrong in deciding that the part-time firefighters were employed under a different sort of contract from regular firefighters. However, when considering whether the retained firefighters were engaged in the same or broadly similar work as their full-time colleagues, the Court was of the opinion that although both types of worker had a core duty, which was to fight fires, the full-time workers had measurable additional duties and so the jobs were not truly comparable.
The House of Lords upheld the Court of Appeal’s ruling as to the nature of the contracts and then went on to consider whether retained firefighters and regular firefighters are engaged in the same or broadly similar work, with regard to whether they have a similar level of qualification, skills and experience. The Law Lords were of the view that the ET had looked for differences, rather than giving weight to the similarities, in the work done. This should be looked at as a whole with regard to the importance of that work to the enterprise as a whole. The original ET had found that ‘at the scene of the fire the actual job function carried out by all attending is effectively the same’ and that the ‘retained and whole-time firefighters were indistinguishable from one another’. In a majority decision the House of Lords allowed the appeal.