The potentially explosive occupational pensions test case currently before the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which could see around 10,000 UK part-time health workers awarded backdated pension rights and cripple many smaller UK occupational funds, may have dramatically developed following a recent ECJ overruling of the two year claims limit on legal decisions.
The case, 'Preston Vs Wolverhampton', brought by employees against Wolverhampton Healthcare National Health Service Trust and Midland Bank, seeks retribution for part-time workers excluded from occupational schemes before the early 1990s. A decision on the proceedings is expect-ed imminently.
A stalemate due to the legal limit of two years for backdating claims had been stalling the hearing before the ECJ, almost a year after it had been re-ferred from the UK's House of Lords.
However, the ECJ has recently ruled in a sex discrimination case 'Levez vs Jennings' that there are circumstances in which the two year limit can be ov-erruled, and UK courts must now de-cide whether to adopt the decision.
A spokesperson for health workers union UNISON, says: This vindicates UNISON's perseverance in pushing for the rights of part-timers at a time when others believed the cause was dead in the water and we are very confident that the ECJ will see the merits of our case."
However, Bill Birmingham, head of research at the UK National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF), said: "This case could be extremely damaging to smaller schemes which are non-contributory and could be faced with claims for enormous liabilities they could not meet. "However, there have been suggestions that for contributory schemes, employees would also be expected to meet back contributions for the per-iod they are claiming against, which it is thought many would not do. In any case this a potential minefield because it would be almost impossible to gauge backdated pension rights for part-timers, because of irregular working hours and the fact that many pay records will not be available. Also, no-one has been hoodwinked here and the Levez case concerned salary misinformation by an employer on the grounds of sex, so I doubt it will be a factor in the Preston case.""