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Tuesday, April 20, 1999 Published at 08:11 GMT 09:11 UK

Business: Your Money

Pensions equality battle

Part-time workers claim they have lost out on their pensions

A court case which could lead to a huge compensation payout to tens of thousands of part-time workers over pensions has begun.

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has started hearing claims on behalf of mainly women part-timers who were denied access to occupational pension schemes up to 1995.

[ image: Unison General Secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe: Long hard struggle]
Unison General Secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe: Long hard struggle
The court will have to decide if the part-timers suffered from indirect sex discrimination, and if so, how far back an applicant can claim compensation.

More than 100,000 cases will depend on the outcome of the hearing, affecting part-time workers in many industries ranging from teaching and finance to local government and the health service.

Estimates of the compensation bill employers could face range from £100m to billions of pounds.

Rodney Bickerstaffe, general secretary of Unison, which first launched legal action over pensions several years ago, said: "It has been a very long, hard fought struggle but we are very confident that the court will see the merits of our case."

'Righting an injustice'

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Union of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, which has members covered by the case, said: "Part-time work is a common characteristic in the lives of working women in the UK and it would be unjust if their pensions did not reflect the valuable work they have done."

NASUWT member Fay Fox, who was refused access to membership of the Teachers' Superannuation Scheme between 1980 and 1995, said: "I chose to work part-time so that I could raise my family. As a result I was treated unfairly for years and lost out financially.

"My pension will be far less because those years of part-time service will not count."

The court decision is not expected until the summer.

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