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Know your rights

Susannah Kirkman offers advice on equality for part-timers

If you work part-time, the good news is that you are entitled to the same employment conditions and pensions benefits as your full-time colleagues, unless your employer can justify treating you differently.

As drama teacher Sue Slator (pictured) discovered (The TES, November 8, 2002), employers have no right to change part-timers' hours if this means they are being treated "less favourably" than comparable full-timers. After Mrs Slator's hours were cut by her employer, Clifton College, an employment tribunal rejected the college's claim that some of Mrs Slator's lessons had been given to another teacher to "invigorate the subject and increase demand".

To make a claim for equal treatment, you will need to identify a comparable full-timer with better working conditions.The regulations stipulate that the part-timer must work for the same employer as the full-time worker, do broadly similar work and have the same kind of contract. You should then ask your employer to make a written statement explaining why you are being treated less favourably than a full-timer. If you are not satisfied with the explanation, you can make a complaint to an employment tribunal.

Part-timers are also entitled to the same pay rates, holidays (pro rata), training and promotion, redundancy conditions and contractual sick pay and maternity and parental pay as full-time staff. Part-timers should not automatically be first on the list for redundancy, for instance. The rules also say that part-time working should be no barrier to promotion, nor should employers exclude part-time staff from training simply because they are not full-time.

Guidelines from the Department for Trade and Industry recommend arranging training to make it convenient for part-timers, and that employers should consider paying them for the extra hours they put in to attend training. The DTI also says employers should look seriously at requests to work part-time.

Kerry George, senior assistant secretary at the National Association of Head Teachers, says these guidelines should make employers think more carefully. "When someone wants to job-share, there is often a knee-jerk reaction against it. At least employers might now have to come up with a good reason why they won't allow a more flexible working pattern."

New legislation on flexible working (The TES, November 22, 2002) says parents of children under six have a right to request changes in their working pattern to help them care for their children. Employers have a "statutory duty" to consider such applications for job-shares and part-time working.

The NAHT already advises heads not to worry about employees' reasons for wanting to go part-time, but simply to see if it's workable. "It's obviously far better to have someone who's enjoying their role in the school than someone who feels miserable and stressed," says Kerry George.

As a part-timer, you will not lose your pension rights, providing you elect to have your pension contributions deducted from your salary. You will need to ask your employer or Teachers' Pensions for Form 261.

When you retire, your pension will be based on your length of service, plus your average salary. This is based on the best consecutive 365 days of salary in your final three years of pensionable service. But your average salary will be calculated as though you had been working full-time, which will boost your pension.

Teachers' Pensions, tel: 01325 745746; email: tpmail@capitagroup.co.uk; www.teacherspensions.co.uk.See also: 'Part-time Workers - the law and best practice' www.dti.gov.ukerpt-detail.htm

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