News and Events

Part-Time Workers - Retained Firefighters

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(Thanks to Nicholas Chronias of Beachcroft Wansbroughs, and John Bowers QC of Littleton Chambers (both of whom represented Kent & Medway Towns Fire Authority) for telling me this decision had been handed down)

The Court of Appeal has upheld the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Matthews v Kent & Medway Fire Authority (better known as the 'retained firefighters' case), although it overturned one of the key findings in the case. Matthews is the leading case under the Part Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000.

For those who may not be familiar with the term, 'retained' firefighter simply means 'part-time' firefighter.

The judgment is short, but forceful. Maurice Kay LJ overturns the Employment Appeal Tribunal's decision that part-time firefighters were employed under different types of contract. He confirmed that full-time firefighters fall within the category of "employees under a contract that is neither for a fixed term not a contract of apprenticeship". He then held that since the categories in regulation 2(3) are stated to be mutually exclusive, it is inappropriate to find that retained fire-fighters fall within the catch-all category "any other description of worker..." since, like full-timers, they work under a contract which is neither for a fixed term not a contract of apprenticeship. Thus full-time and retained firefighters do, contrary to the EAT's view, work under the same type of contract.

However, Maurice Kay LJ upheld the tribunal's (and EAT's) decision that retained firefighters did not perform "the same or broadly similar work" to full-time firefighters. Both groups had, at their core, a duty to fight fires. However, full-time fire-fighters also had other, additional duties, and the Court of Appeal held the tribunal was entitled to find that this meant the two jobs were not truly comparable.

Accordingly the overall decision was upheld in (as Maurice Kay LJ) described it, "a pyrrhic victory" for the firefighters in having part of their appeal allowed, which "may have happier consequences for other part-time workers in other cases."