National Gallery tribunal shifts gig economy spotlight to public sector

By agency reporter
November 21, 2018

An Employment Tribunal hearing on 26 November 2018 will decide the employment status of a group of 27 artists and art lecturers (NG27) who have worked regularly for the National Gallery in London for decades. The Judge will rule on 7 December as to whether the group were employees or workers.
 
The NG27 were dismissed from the National Gallery in October 2017. The National Gallery insists they were self-employed with no rights to benefits or consultation prior to the proposed termination of contract. The Educators argue they worked with regularity, were paid through the National Gallery payroll, taxed at source and required to attend staff training and appraisals.  
 
The National Gallery offered the group of 27 long-serving educators just eight permanent employment contracts, on greatly reduced salary and terms, to which they do not consent.  
 
The Tribunal will also be deciding a new point of law: whether workers ought to have the right to collective consultation prior to termination of a contract. Currently this right is only given to employees. No court has considered this point of law previously. If successful, this would represent a new law to increase the protection and rights of vulnerable workers across all sectors. 

Marie-Therese Ross, who worked for the National Gallery for 24 years said:  “This isn’t just about us. Our case highlights the exploitation of precarious workers across the arts and beyond. We are standing up for fair employment rights and calling for our public arts organisations to value the expertise and experience at the heart of their education programmes.”
 
Al Johnson, who worked for the National Gallery for 19 years said:  “Dismissing these educators represents a loss of over 500 years of teaching experience, knowledge, and inspiring conversations with the public about the art that belongs to us all.”

NG27 launched their CrowdJustice page on 16 July 2018 and hit £10,000 within the first 24 hours. They have now raised over £70,000 through individual public donations and a creative campaign including sales of their artwork and fundraising lectures and workshops. 
 
Due to the growth in their case and recent Preliminary Tribunal decisions, they have had to extend their appeal to £90,000 to cover legal costs. They are asking for public support to help fight this case that could have far reaching benefit for workers across all sectors. 
 
NG27 are dismayed to have been forced to spend such large sums on legal costs to pursue this case. These costs and efforts could have been avoided had the National Gallery conceded that the NG27 educators were not self-employed. The National Gallery’s legal expenses are not known.
 
James Heard, the longest-serving claimant who worked for the National Gallery for 45 years said: “We are standing up for fair treatment for staff in the arts, and to protect the teaching expertise at the heart of our museums. Our national galleries are something the UK is extremely proud of and it is vital that the educators who hold the collective knowledge of these places are properly protected.” 
 
Marie van der Zyl, Partner at Gordon Dadds LLP, the group's legal representative said: “Individuals working in the arts are in need of certainty surrounding their employment rights and it’s essential to ensure they are categorised correctly.” 

The group of 27 educators were the public face of the National Gallery. They delivered the daily programme of talks, courses and workshops the Gallery offers its visitors. They helped thousands of visitors connect with the paintings in the collection. Working together and individually, they have come to deeply love the Gallery, its paintings, and their potential to engage and inspire.
 
The group are represented by Gordon Dadds LLP and by Chris Milsom of Cloisters Chambers.   

The National Gallery is an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

* National Gallery Educators https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/nationalgalleryeducators/

* The National Gallery https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/

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