Higher and further education colleges could face financial collapse if academic and non-academic part-time staff refused access to pensions schemes ask for their membership to be backdated. Compensation claims could run into millions of pounds.
The European Court of Justice ruled in autumn that part-time employees should have equal access to pension schemes. Restricting access to full-time employees could be discriminatory if a preponderance of part-timers employees were of one gender. The ruling allows employees to back-date their claims to 1976.
The first industrial tribunal case is being brought by two members of the Association of University Teachers, part-timers from Swansea, who say they should have been included in the Universities' Superannuation Scheme. The AUT is giving advice on how to bring claims. Individuals have until December to apply to an industrial tribunal.
The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association sent a "red alert" letter this week to universities and colleges of higher education giving them seven days to report how many of their staff could be involved.
The Open University has the biggest number of potential claimants, 8,000 currently and perhaps 16,000 if all staff who have worked for the university at some stage since 1976 are counted. Swansea University could face a bill of more than Pounds 1 million if all possible claims were enforced.
Stephen Rouse, the chief executive of the UCEA, said: "Potentially this could cost the universities and colleges several millions of pounds. We are not talking about people who work occasionally but about regular part-timers.
David Anderson Evans, a senior administrator at the CVCP, confirmed that claims could run into millions of pounds. He pointed out that none of the schemes discriminated against part-timers. Employers were responsible for refusing part timers access to the schemes.
"People have the choice of applying to join the scheme and claim retrospective contributions from 1976, but to do this they would have to put in quite a lot of money depending on their salaries and the level of contribution. I think it is more likely that individuals will take legal action and claim compensation plus admittance to the scheme from now," Mr Anderson Evans said.
Non-academic staff in the old universities belong to a multiplicity of individual local schemes to which employers contribute around l2 per cent and staff around 5 to 6 per cent.