The Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 came into force on 1 July 2000. They introduced new rights for part-time workers with the aim being to ensure that, unless objectively justified, part-time workers are not treated less favourably than comparable full-time workers in respect of their terms and conditions. As a result of the regulations, part-time workers are entitled, for example, to the same hourly rate of pay, the same annual leave and the same maternity/parental leave as their full-time counterparts on a pro rata basis.
Under the regulations, a part-time worker must identify:
- a comparable full-time worker who is employed by the same employer under the same type of contract, engaged in the same or broadly similar work having regard, where relevant, to whether they have a similar level of qualification, skills and experience; and
- less favourable treatment either in terms of the worker’s contractual terms or some other detriment.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal’s decision in the case of Matthews and Others v Kent & Medway Town’s Fire Authority is the first major appellate judgment on the regulations. The case concerned part-time fire fighters who alleged that they had been less favourably treated than their full-time counterparts by being excluded from the pension scheme and in relation to arrangements for other pay benefits.
The EAT rejected the part-time fire fighters’ claims for the following reasons:
- Although both part-time and full-time fire fighters were employed under contracts of employment, they were not employed under the “same type of contract” as one another. There were substantial differences between the work of the part-time fire fighters when compared with that of full-time fire fighters. Although both were involved in putting out fires as their primary responsibility, there were differences in respect of the amount of time they spent attending to fires, shift patterns, selection procedures and training.
- Such differences prevented the part-time fire fighters from being employed on the same type of contract as their full-time comparators which meant that they were precluded from pursuing their claim under the regulations. The EAT found that it was reasonable for the employer to treat the part-time fire fighters differently from other workers on the grounds that they had a different type of contract.
- The part-time fire fighters were not engaged in the “same or broadly similar work” as the full-time fire fighters. The fact that their core activity was the same was not enough for it to amount to “broadly similar work”.
The EAT also looked at the issue of less favourable treatment and affirmed that the correct approach was to compare each term of the part-time workers’ contract against those of a full-time comparator, not to compare the overall favourableness of the packages.
The case suggests that it may be more difficult for a part-time worker to bring a claim than was originally thought. There is perhaps a degree of circularity in the EAT’s reasoning in that many of the differences in the contract arose from the very fact that the workers were part-time.