Ask the panel

October 21, 2005

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

I was appointed teaching fellow earlier this year at the top of the 'other related' scale grade two (£29,128) on a three-year contract. I teach several subjects offered by the department. Later, the department advertised for teaching fellows in just one subject but for permanent posts on the other related scale three (up to £35,883). I queried this disparity and was told that the world had moved on since my appointment, I had accepted my terms at the time and this subject was difficult to recruit to, hence the better terms and conditions. But I will be teaching modules in this subject. Am I being discriminated against? Do I have a case?

* The Universities and Colleges Employers' Association panellist says:

"This difference in grading appears unbalanced and unusual but it is most likely the result of particular circumstances. The disparity between the top of grade two and the bottom of grade three is not significant but the reasons should be addressed by the employer. They most likely involve the difference in levels of skills and experience required for teaching all the modules in a specialist subject.

"This comparison is between a permanent post in a particular subject having difficulty in recruitment and a fixed-term post covering certain modules from particular subjects. Even if the posts were more similar in content, it is still possible to offer a disparity in scale according to particular needs.

"Discrimination is only possible when posts have similar responsibilities.

In this case, the posts differ."

* However, the Association of University Teachers panellist says: "You may have a case under equal pay legislation if you can show that other members of staff - that is, the new teaching fellows - are doing work of equal value to the work you do and that there is a person carrying out this comparable work who is a different gender from you.

"Or you may have a case of less favourable treatment that can be challenged under the fixed-term employee regulations. If the university claims it needs to pay a market supplement to those teaching certain modules it needs to be able to justify this and pay it to all affected staff, not just to new recruits. Under the framework agreement, university employers will have to role analyse/job match all staff, an exercise that should identify whether your role is equivalent to the role of the other teaching fellows. If that is the case, you should all be put on the same grade. If that results in a pay rise for you, you may have a claim for back pay.

"You could use the national academic role profiles to see if your role and that of the other teaching fellows match the same role profile. If so, you should be on the same grade."

* Our Natfhe panellist adds: "Take advice from your union representative with a view to their formally asking in writing for an explanation of the difference in pay."

He confirms that if there is a difference in gender or ethnic origin between yourself and at least one of the teaching fellows on the new pay level then there is the possibility of a claim for discrimination.

"The difference may arise because management claims that the higher grade arises from a job evaluation exercise that used role profiles," he says.

"It is hard to see how this could be the case unless it is demonstrably the case that teaching one module is more demanding than teaching several modules.

"Alternatively, the difference in pay might arise from the use of market supplements, perhaps on the grounds that it is harder to attract new staff now than when you were employed. But the use of market supplements themselves must be equal payproofed.

"The Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff agreement on the use of market supplements can be found at www.natfhe.org.uk "

This advice panel includes the Association of University Teachers, Natfhe, the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, Research Councils UK, the Equality Challenge Unit and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party. Send questions to advicepanel@thes.co.uk

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