A group of 27 art educators and lecturers has launched an unfair dismissal case against the National Gallery in London seeking to be recognised as employees rather than freelancers.The educators, who hope the case will act as a landmark for workers in the gig economy, were dismissed from the gallery last year and informed that they could re-apply for the same positions at reduced pay and terms. The gallery claims that this was done in order to move away from offering ad hoc work to "more secure employment".
However, at a preliminary hearing this week the claimants argued that they were already, in effect, employees of the gallery. They said they were paid through the gallery’s payroll, taxed at source and wore staff passes. They were also expected to attend training and meetings, given access to the staff intranet and subject to regular appraisals.
The claimants said they should have been given consultation rights prior to their dismissal, that the gallery discriminated against members of the group in respect to age, sex and longevity of service, and that they are entitled to retrospective holiday pay.
All of those dismissed had a longstanding relationship with the gallery, having worked there for between 10 to 46 years. The educators worked across the gallery’s public-facing learning programmes, providing guided tours, talks and workshops to visitors, including specialist work with children and people with disabilities.
One of the educators who is bringing a case against the gallery said: “We were always aware that we were being unfairly treated and that we were due more rights, because it was quite apparent to us that our relationship with the National Gallery was as employees rather than freelancers. We had all the hallmarks of employees - paid via payroll, taxed via PAYE, given staff badges, and assessed and trained by the gallery.“Our intention is to get recognition of our role from the sector. There are a lot of educators that have a similar relationship with museums. It could be a landmark case.”
The group is crowdfunding its case via the Crowdjustice platform. Its page states: “We are taking a stand against the exploitation of ‘bogus’ self-employment in the arts. We believe in the importance of arts education and believe artists and educators deserve to be valued and treated fairly...
“We have reason to believe the gallery has made deliberate attempts over several years to evade awarding us fair employment status.”
It adds: “This case is significant to those interested in the point of law, fair treatment of workers, the importance of arts education and the behaviour of our publicly-owned and funded cultural organisations.”
A spokeswoman from the National Gallery said: “The gallery has been issued with a number of different claims from a number of freelance workers who have been providing a range of different services for the gallery (and other museums and galleries across London) on an ad hoc basis for a number of years.
“It is our understanding that the claims have arisen out of the gallery's wish to change from offering ad hoc work to offering more secure employment, with additional pension and worker benefits. This change reflects the gallery's strategy to develop our programmes to increasingly reach new audiences and make the most of digital technology to widen our engagement.
“The entire group were consulted for their views together and individually over the change for a period of three months between October 2017 and January 2018. These jobs were offered to all of our existing freelance service providers last year. We still have vacancies which are available, although unfortunately not all of the group have expressed an interest in these.
“The gallery is not yet in receipt of the details of each complaint, but believes that we have acted both lawfully and fairly in changing our service provision to one of secure employment.”
The tribunal is scheduled to take place in November this year.