The educators were dismissed in October 2017

Sector awaits result of National Gallery case

Rob Sharp, 01.01.2019
Tribunal of the educators seeking to be recognised as staff has put the spotlight on working practices across the sector. By Rob Sharp
The fate of 27 art educators who have taken the National Gallery, London, to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal has raised questions over practices across the sector.  

The group of artists and lecturers are claiming in the tribunal, which began in November, that they were unfairly dismissed in October 2017 without consultation or benefits. They have sought to be recognised as employees, not freelancers. No date has been set for the judgement at the time of writing.

The National Gallery disputes this claim, arguing that it consulted them over proposed changes to staffing. The educators say they provided a combined 500 years of service, including welcoming school groups and helping to supply daily talks, courses and workshops.  

“We’ve been working to secure justice for more than a year,” says spokesman Steven Barrett. “We’ve raised nearly £75,000 to cover our legal costs and have been amazed by the support we’ve received from the public.”  

Although the gallery classed the workers as self-employed, they claim they worked regularly, and were taxed at source through payroll. They were also required to attend training sessions and appraisals.  

Barrett adds: “This is the first case in the public sector of ‘bogus self-employment’. There have been several high-profile cases in the private sector, but this is the National Gallery, a non-departmental government body accountable to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. 

“It will be watched very carefully by other museums and galleries. This area of employment is ambiguous and has been for years. But this is the first time a case such as ours has gone to tribunal for a public sector employer.”

Groundbreaking case

Clara Paillard, the president of the PCS union’s culture group, says: “It’s a ground-breaking case because it’s the first one about people working in education. This shows that precarious employment is not just there in the private sector, it’s in every part of the economy.”

In December, former shadow minister for culture Kevin Brennan, wrote to the culture secretary Jeremy Wright, questioning the National Gallery’s use of public money to defend “bogus self-employment”.   

The museums and galleries sector has seen a shift to short, fixed-term contracts, in response to an increase in project working and fixed-term funding. 

Tamsin Russell, the Museums Association’s professional development officer, says: “While this mixed workforce model can meet the sector’s needs, we must ensure that organisations are working in line with the legislation, and that roles are categorised clearly and correctly, so that both parties understand what that means for them.”

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