Thousands of part-time lecturers who had their hopes of backdated pension claims dashed at an industrial tribunal in Birmingham last week are to take their case to Europe via the Employment Appeals Tribunal.
It is more than a year since the European Court of Justice first extended pension rights to part-time employees. This should mean that part-time lecturers could have their pension rights backdated to 1976. But a British Government amendment to the 1993 Pension Schemes Act limits retrospective claims in the United Kingdom to two years for pensions, under article 119 of the EEC treaty.
The Birmingham tribunal upheld this domestic ruling, insisting that claims by part-timers would only be allowed if claims were made within six months of the end of employment, and then only for two years.
Glyn Jenkins, senior pension officer for Unison, which has been campaigning alongside Natfhe and the Association of University Teachers, said: "It cannot be right that individual members should not be allowed to backdate their membership of pension schemes in accordance with the Treaty of Rome, which enshrines the principle of equality."
He added that the decision in Birmingham is "a classic Catch-22": "UK law allowed pension schemes to discriminate against part-timers for many years. And yet these staff are now being penalised for apparently not knowing that they had a claim under European law even though their right to join pension schemes was only finally clarified in September."
Joan Gordon, Natfhe's pension officer, representing around 2,000 part-timers, said: "It is totally wrong that the Government should now be benefiting from their own discriminatory practice."
The unions, coordinated by the Trades Union Congress, are expecting to appeal to the Employment Appeals Tribunal, and a date has already been booked in March. The next stage would be the House of Lords, and then Europe. But the unions are hoping to circumvent this protracted process by getting a referral to Europe through the EAT. Mr Jenkins said: "Given that we have not had any success in the UK, it looks like we will have to go back to Europe where the original ruling came from."