Minister for Education & Skills v Boyle

This case primarily concerned the question of whether or not teachers are employees of the Minister for Education and Skills (the “Minister”) for the purposes of the protection of Employees (Part Time Work) Act, 2001 (the “Act”).

Broadly speaking the State has thus far only considered itself the employer of “State-funded” teachers for the purposes of the Payment of Wages Act 1991 and the Redundancy Payments Act 1967. However this ruling has specifically added the Protection of Employees (Part Time Work) Act 2001 to that list and moreover has made it likely that other remuneration related employment statutes would be similarly treated in the future.

Background

The Minister sought to quash a determination of the Labour Court (“LC”) which held that Ms Boyle, a part-time preschool teacher, was an employee of the Minister within the meaning of that Act and that she had been treated less favourably than a full-time comparator in relation to pension rights.

The core of the Minister’s argument was that no contractual relationship existed between the Department of Education & Skills (“DES”) and Ms Boyle (or indeed between the DES and her chosen comparator). Rather, she had entered into a contract with or worked under a contract of employment for the management of the school. It was emphasised that unlike the Payment of Wages Act 1991, with its definition predicated on liability for wage payment, this Act is exclusively concerned with contractual arrangements.

Decision

The court’s view was that the provision of primary school education in Ireland involved a unique tripartite relationship between the DES, school management and “State-funded” teachers. According to Miss Justice O’Malley, “it is in the nature of a tripartite relationship that each of the three parties has a separate role to play”. She stated that school management holds responsibility for hiring, discipline and dismissal, and these aspects are the ones that are likely to give rise to issues of vicarious liability. On the other hand, the State is at least analogous to an employer when it comes to remuneration matters.

State’s role in funding education

The Judge noted that the State sets the rules according to which it pays the salaries of teachers, where they are not paid out of privately sourced funds. For instance, salaries will not be paid by the DES unless the teachers chosen by management have the qualifications required by the DES and unless the allocation of posts by the DES to the school in question permits appointments to be made. The DES negotiates the rates of pay including allowances for qualifications in a collective bargaining process.

Commentary

The judgment may be viewed as a broader statement on the role of the DES with respect to “State-funded” teachers and matters concerning remuneration.

The reasoning of the Court that the statute could not be interpreted in a way that was “at variance with reality,” is one which can be comfortably extended to other remuneration related employment statutes, and perhaps broader issues. Going forward, this case may have further implications for the DES.