A teacher who initially was employed on a fixed term contract claimed that she had been afforded less favourable treatment than other employees at her school. She contended that this treatment involved:
- Being paid less
- Not being paid for three months of each year, and
- Not being afforded an opportunity to join the Group Pension Scheme.
The teacher further complained that she was never informed in writing as to why she was being provided with a fixed term contract, and why she was never provided with a Contract of Indefinite Duration, also known as a ‘CID’.
The school’s position was that she was employed on a fixed term contract for a period of time but was then considered to be employed under a CID in accordance with the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act, 2003. The school further argued that she was considered a CID holder from 2004. Therefore, she could not seek relief under the Act as by definition she was no longer a fixed-term employee. In addition, she was manifestly out of time having brought her claim in 2017.
Labour Court decision
The teacher was successful in her Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) complaint and the School was directed to provide the teacher with a CID effective from June 2007 with a salary of €49,333 and to pay compensation of €5,000. The matter, however, was appealed to the Labour Court. The Labour Court decided that the teacher was a permanent employee and not a fixed-term worker within the meaning of the Act. The teacher then appealed the matter to the High Court on a point of law. The High Court found that the Labour Court, based on the evidence available to it, had erred in law in finding that the teacher was indeed a permanent employee. The High Court remitted the matter back to the Labour Court for a full re-hearing.
The Labour Court held that the teacher’s continuous service on a series of fixed-term contracts with the school brought her within the parameters of section 9(1) of the Act from September 2004 onwards. Section 9(1) of the Act provides that where an employee has completed their third year of continuous employment, their fixed term contract may be renewed by that employer on only one more occasion and shall only be for one year. Where an employee has over four years continuous service they will be entitled to a CID. The Labour Court therefore determined that the school could only lawfully issue the teacher with one further fixed term contract unless it could rely on objective grounds for a further renewal on a fixed term basis.
The Labour Court noted that the school did issue the teacher with a further fixed term contract in 2005. It found that by operation of law that the teacher had acquired a CID in September 2004. It was not necessary for either the school or the teacher to take any particular action in order for this entitlement to crystallise.
Had a CID been acquired?
Despite the benefits that a CID provides over a fixed term contract, the teacher sought to dispute the fact that she had a CID on two grounds:
- That the contract does not make any reference to the Act and does not expressly state that it is a CID
- The Teacher refers to the fact that she received and signed what purported to be a further fixed term contract during the academic year 2005-2006
The Labour Court stated that the first issue had been dealt with when the Court stated that the Teacher had acquired a CID by operation of law with effect from 1 September 2004. In addition, the Court noted that there was nothing contained in the written contract issued to the Teacher that is inconsistent with it being a confirmation of her having acquired CID status.
The Labour Court, in deciding the second issue, stated that the management structure of the school changing in 2005 to a Board of Management in compliance with the Education Act 1998 had led to a number of new contracts being put in place to account for the new employer of the teachers. The Court noted that the Board of Management acted in haste and provided the teacher with a further fixed term contract.
The Labour Court applied the reasoning set out in case law in The Board of Management of Malahide Community School v Conaty  IEHC 486. Accordingly, it stated that although the teacher had signed the 2005-06 contract, in doing so she cannot be regarded as having consented to waiving her acquired rights under the Act. Therefore, the Court noted that she could not have full knowledge of the rights she was apparently agreeing to waive.
In deciding for the school, the Labour Court held that the Teacher acquired a CID by operation of law with effect from 1 September 2004 and that she ceased to be a fixed term employee of the Respondent as of that date. The Labour Court also determined that the teacher was manifestly out of time in bringing her complaint.
This is an important decision for school management and employers. It provides a reminder that employers should take care when drafting new contracts for their employees. The decision is also a useful reminder for employers of the principals outlined in The Board of Management of Malahide Community School v Conaty, that it is very difficult for employees to waive their acquired rights unless they are fully informed of the implications and have received independent legal advice.
For more information on drafting and implementing contracts, please contact a member of our Education team.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.