A lecturer's victory at an industrial tribunal may pave the way for thousands of part-time college staff to claim unemployment benefit during the summer.
The Department of Social Security was forced to drop its ruling against Jean Rose, a Devon college lecturer. It had insisted that no unemployment pay would be allowed for "periods of recognised or customary holiday leave in connection with employment".
The ruling, which may be seen as a landmark judgment, could give hope to Britain's part-time lecturers.
The department had also argued that as a part-timer, she also had reasonable expectation of further employment in September, which meant that technically, she was not unemployed.
But Ms Rose, backed by the lecturers' union NATFHE, argued that under new-style part-timer contracts, there was no guarantee of work.
John Bryant, NATFHE regional support officer, told The TES: "The difficulty is that this sort of contract is increasingly being used by most colleges. It states no hours of employment but simply says that the college will call the person when needed."
National officials will study the written ruling to see if the decision sets a precedent. Efforts by the union to have the ruling extended to cover Christmas and Easter weeks failed. The tribunal ruled that there was a normal expectation of holiday and further employment after those academic terms.
The DSS will now be required to pay Ms Rose, a single mother, Pounds 44 a week. She admits that she was surprised at the outcome and almost decided not to appeal after her claim was turned down last summer.
"I have an open-ended contract stating that I will be employed to teach English in adult education classes at South Dartmoor Community College whenever these are running."
According to NATHFE senior officials the ruling raises serious questions about the nature of the new contracts which have led to pay cuts and saved the colleges money.
It was also questionable how far Government would be willing trade off savings from "efficiencies" within the Department of Education and Employment, only to have the DSS foot the bill.
Regional NATFHE officials say it is impossible to calculate the number of part-timers on contracts of this nature or the extent to which local DSS offices would impose the same ruling as Devon.
Lecturers, who were traditionally employed part-time on short-term contracts, have been able to claim unemployment benefit when out of work, regardless of the time of year. But with colleges increasingly open all the year the definition of the normal summer break is disappearing.
The union is arguing for all part-timers' contracts to include holiday payment. Many casual industries such as the building trade have been working this way for years. Ms Rose said: "Since the majority of part-timers are women, lack of payment must surely be another case of sex discrimination."
Colleges are increasingly using part-time agencies such as Education Lecture Services - which claims to have more than 45,000 lecturers on its books - as a way of avoiding benefits such as holiday pay. Lecturers have to negotiate individually with the agency.
Reports to the union show that a great variety of entitlements are included in the range of agencies touting for custom. In the North- east, for example there may be at least seven agencies, creating complexities for the DSS and lecturers.
TES november 24 1995 mike benson