An hourly paid lecturer has won a landmark settlement in a tribunal case against Leeds Metropolitan University that could have major implications for the millions of part-time workers in education, building, catering and hospitality.
Susan Birch, who worked at Leeds Met for eight years as a lecturer in the teaching of English as a foreign language and as a teacher trainer, took the university to court after working more hours than full-time colleagues but earning up to £10,000 less.
Paul Mackney, general secretary of lecturers' union Natfhe, which supported Ms Birch, said: "The case establishes that part-time lecturers are entitled to equal pro rata pay rates to full-time colleagues."
Ms Birch is the first hourly paid lecturer to successfully use the Part-time Workers (Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 to challenge an employer on the difference in treatment between part-time hourly paid staff and full-timers.
In what Natfhe called an "unprecedented settlement", Leeds Met last week agreed to settle the case before going to a final hearing. Ms Birch has been awarded £25,000 in compensation and is being transferred to a full-time permanent contract.
Leeds Met insisted this week that the settlement did not set a precedent. A spokesman said: "The tribunal did not reach a conclusion on the substance of the claim, and no decision was made that establishes a precedent or affects the position of part-time hourly paid staff generally within the university or elsewhere in the sector."
But Andy Pike, a national officer at Natfhe, said: "The door is now open for thousands of workers in higher and further education and other industries to seek redress."
Both Natfhe and the Association of University Teachers are campaigning to improve the conditions of academics on hourly paid or short-term contracts.
According to Natfhe, there are about 30,000 lecturers in post-1992 universities on hourly paid contracts - about 40 per cent of all teaching staff in these universities. Women are disproportionately represented. They make up a third of all academics but nearly half (43 per cent) of hourly paid lecturers.
Ms Birch said: "It has been three years of immense pressure that has damaged my family life, but I simply could not accept such a patently unfair situation."
* Northumbria University has signed a deal with Natfhe offering permanent fractional contracts to all hourly paid staff who work more than 80 hours a year.
The university has about 350 such staff, and it expects a third to fall under the new arrangements. The deal has been negotiated as part of the new pay framework. It follows a similar deal with Westminster University last year.