Minister ordered to pay compensation to part-time teacher

Court rules in favour of woman in significant judgment that could affect 50,000 teachers

A significant judgment concerning the entitlements of part-time teachers and with implications for all teachers has been issued by the High Court

A significant judgment concerning the entitlements of part-time teachers and with implications for all teachers has been issued by the High Court

 

A significant judgment concerning the entitlements of part-time teachers and with implications for all teachers has been issued by the High Court.

The Minister for Education must pay compensation to a part-time teacher, who taught for 20 years in a pre-school for traveller children, over being treated less favourably than teachers doing comparable work, the court ruled.

Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley upheld a Labour Court finding Anne Boyle was an employee of the Minister and not, as the Minister argued, of her school’s management board.

The Labour Court correctly ordered the Minister to pay compensation to Ms Boyle under the Protection of Employees (Part-Time) Work Act 2001 over being treated less favourably than teachers doing comparable work, the judge held.

However, she ruled the Labour Court had no power, given the rules governing the national teachers pension scheme, to make an additional order directing the Minister to admit Ms Boyle, a qualified secondary teacher, to that scheme.

The judge said the Labour Court had not acted irrationally in awarding Ms Boyle €10,000 for the “general effects” of the discrimination suffered by her and should reconsider the compensation sum given the finding the Minister could not be ordered to admit Ms Boyle to the pension scheme.

In proceedings described as “of major importance” for all teachers, the Minister sought to overturn the finding Ms Boyle is an “employee” of the Minister’s within the terms of the 2001 Act being treated less favourably than other teachers.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation supported Ms Boyle’s claim of an employment relationship with the Minister within the meaning of an employment contract for the purposes of the 2001 Act.

Ms Boyle, Monivea Park, Galway, represented by Peter Ward SC, taught at the Hillside Park Pre-school for Travellers until it closed in June 2011.

The Minister argued she, like about 50,000 teachers in the State paid by the Minister, were employed by their schools’ board of management and not employees of the Minister.

In her judgment, Ms Justice O’Malley said this case involved a serious matter affecting a large number of people. It was rooted in the “unique Constitutional arrangements for education in this State”, involving a “unique tripartite relationship” between the Department of Education, the Department funded teacher and the school.

In relation to teachers whose salaries are paid by the State, the role of employer is, “uniquely, split”, with one part played by the Department and the other by the school management, she said.

The school management has the right to hire, discipline and generally direct a teacher in the day to day running of the school while the Department sets the rules about, and pays, the salaries. Since the Department was taking on what would normally be the rights of an employer in relation to pay, it also carried the “legal duties” of an employer associated with pay, she ruled.

Compliance with its own Departmental rules was one such legal obligation and is a matter of contractual right on the part of teachers, she held. Compliance with rules imposed on employers by legislation concerning pay and pay-related matters should not be treated any differently and to find otherwise would impose on school management bodies legal responsibility where they have no legal power.

The Department has over the years administered its functions with a consciousness of these responsibilities, the judge added. If it did not, it was “hard to see how the school system could function”.

The Department, in fulfilment of its constitutional functions, provides for free primary education by, inter alia, paying teachers’ salaries, she said. It has set rules under which it makes representations to managers and teachers as to how it will pay salaries and thereby made itself responsible for ensuring lawful payment of salaries.

While Ms Boyle was not employed in a school “recognised” under the 1998 Education Act, there was no legislation preventing the Minister entering into the kind of arrangement under which Ms Boyle was employed for 20 years, the judge said.

During that time, she was paid a rate determined by the Minister and given various allowances and entitlements consistent with the legal responsibilities of an employer for pay-related issues.

Given the finding Ms Boyle was employed by the Minister for the purposes of the 2001 Act, she had to show she was being treated less favourably than full-time employees doing comparable work within the definition of that Act. The Labour Court finding she was treated less favourably was not challenged in this case and the mere fact she worked in a different type of establishment “could not be a bar to redress”.

The Minister’s complaint about the exact redress was partly made out because the Labour Court had no power to order the Minister to admit Ms Boyle to a particular pension scheme governed by terms including to pay pension contributions, the judge said. This went beyond ordering an employer to comply with the Act and the loss suffered by Ms Boyle would be more appropriately dealt with via compensation.