Irish court gives pay-off parity to contract lecturer

A union representing Irish academics has welcomed a landmark legal decision that removes an incentive for universities to employ staff on fixed-term contracts in a bid to avoid larger redundancy pay-offs.

March 8, 2012

The Irish High Court ruled last month that a fixed-term employee of University College Cork who was made redundant in 2009 was entitled to exactly the same pay-off as full-time academics elsewhere in the sector.

After being laid off by UCC following three and a half years at the college, she took her case to the Labour Court, where she was awarded "an ex gratia redundancy payment calculated on the basis of four weeks' pay per year of service, in addition to her statutory redundancy entitlement".

But the institution appealed to the High Court on various grounds, including the claim that it had never made a redundancy payment to a comparable permanent employee.

The High Court judge, Mr Justice Kearns, rejected all of UCC's claims. He said that given the lack of permanent comparators within the institution, the applicant was perfectly justified in seeking comparators "in the same industry or sector of employment", as laid down by legislation.

The college's position, noted the judge, would "foster discrimination by encouraging employers to select fixed-term employees for redundancy ahead of permanent employees, thereby avoiding the creation of any form of precedent of enhanced redundancy payments against which fixed-term employees could measure their own payments".

In setting out his ruling, Mr Justice Kearns also made reference to guidelines on fixed-term contracts agreed by unions and employers at the European level that ensured "the application of the principle of non-discrimination and to prevent abuse arising from the use of successive fixed-term employment contracts or relations".

The decision was welcomed by Mike Jennings, general secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers, as marking "a very important day for fixed-term workers, of which a huge number are employed in universities".

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