Union members have more chance of winning higher sums at an industrial tribunal. But officials say such casework can pose major problems, as Sandra Jones found out. David Budge reports.
Sandra Jeans doesn't run marathons. But she proved her formidable staying power when she became locked in a struggle with her employer, Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education.
The part-time information technology lecturer lodged a complaint about the college's performance-related pay scheme in September 1993, claiming that it discriminated against part-timers such as herself.
A part-time lecturer could qualify for bonuses of Pounds 500 a year for each of four areas of work: teaching, research, course management and commercial activity. Mrs Jeans, however, was only eligible for Pounds 125 - a quarter of the teaching bonus -because she has a .25 post.
She argued that a man on the same contract would be more likely to be a full-timer or to have management duties and therefore qualify for more bonuses, but she failed to wring any concession from her employer.
"The college forced me to go through a protracted, four-stage grievance procedure, and when that yielded nothing I had to go on to an industrial tribunal and hand the matter over to the union."
Sandra Jeans's persistence finally paid off this summer when the college agreed to pay her Pounds 2,000 which she donated to NATFHE funds. But the satisfaction from her victory was tempered by her frustration over the time it took to conclude her action.
"It appears that only rich part-timers can afford to pursue cases of this kind," she said. "I've worked out that if I had been paid a lecturer's rate for the time I invested in the grievance procedure I would have earned Pounds 12,000."
She is also slightly disappointed that a settlement was reached before the tribunal hearing could go ahead.
"I can see it was sensible not to go to the full hearing, which would have taken 5 to 10 days and been hugely expensive,"she said.
"But it left me wondering how many cases that would make good employment law are stopped early on."
The publicity her case has attracted may, however, have deterred some colleges from following Cheltenham and Gloucester's example. And the whole episode has clearly been a fascinating learning experience for Mrs Jeans. "I'm now planning to do an MA that will concentrate on some aspect of the industrial tribunal process," she said.
Given her track record, there is little doubt that she will finish the course.