Members of the 27-strong group of claimants in the National Gallery

National Gallery case finds 27 were employed as ‘workers’

Alex Stevens, 04.03.2019
Gig economy case may mean group can claim employment rights
An employment tribunal has ruled that a group of educators involved in a legal case with the National Gallery in London were employed as “workers”.

The 27 claimants, who ran workshops and talks at the gallery, were taxed through payroll but did not receive employment benefits such as sick pay, paid annual leave, pension or maternity pay.

The group brought the case after being dismissed in October 2017 and told to reapply for the same positions at reduced pay and terms. The gallery said this had been done in order to move them from ad hoc work to more secure employment.

The judge rejected the gallery’s contention that the educators were engaged as independent contractors, ruling that it was “unsustainable” to describe them as self-employed. However, the tribunal also rejected a claim by the educators that they were unfairly dismissed.

The crowdfunded case is believed to be the first litigation of “bogus self-employment” in the public sector. The ruling opens the possibility of further action in pursuit of benefits to which the group may be entitled, and may have far-reaching implications for museums and galleries.

The claimants said in a statement that they would continue to fight the case to ensure that their “full rights are acknowledged as a result of this judgment”. Workers have fewer employment rights than employees but are entitled to benefits such as holiday and sick pay.

A source from the group said they were “open to honest mediation” and were now waiting to hear from the gallery.

One of the claimants, Karly Allen, said: “This judgement cannot take away the fact that we have lost our jobs and the close relationship with the gallery which we loved; it does go some way to acknowledge the losses we have suffered and our contribution to the life of the gallery.”

Marie van der Zyl, a partner at the claimants’ law firm, Ince Gordon Dadds, said: “This is an important case for all those who have unconventional working arrangements. The world of work is changing and there will be many individuals who are unsure of their status and rights. This case gives those individuals hope.”

A statement from the National Gallery read: “The gallery welcomes the clarity provided by this decision, namely that the claimants in this case were not employees of the gallery.

“The gallery had no wish to get involved in litigation in relation to this matter. From the outset we would have welcomed the opportunity to resolve the issue through mediation, but the claimants did not respond to the gallery’s requests to enable these discussions to begin since the claim arose.

“The gallery has not ‘dismissed’ anyone as part of this process. The majority of the people involved are still providing these services to us on the same basis as previously, whilst others involved in these claims have already accepted either employment or new contracts with us.

“At this time the gallery is considering the detailed implications of the decision with its legal advisers.”