A group of 27 lecturers have brought an employment case against the National Gallery.

The art history experts who have worked for many years at the London gallery claim unfair dismissal.  They argue that they should have been treated as employees, not freelancers. This is the latest case to come up in the public sector following a spate of disputes in the private sector. 

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Last year, the National Gallery overhauled its education department, instead choosing to create a smaller number of in-house roles. All 27 workers - who have worked regularly for the National Gallery for decades -  lost their jobs. Now, they are taking legal action on the grounds of unfair dismissal.

Entitled to employment rights

“We are asking to be recognised as employees (and at a minimum ‘workers’), and not self-employed,” they said in a statement on crowdfunding website CrowdJustice. “We are bringing a case of unfair dismissal and claim that the National Gallery has discriminated against members of our group, in respect to longevity of service, sex and age.

Although the National Gallery insist the group were self employed, they claim that they were workers, and therefore entitled to associated protection and rights.

Their arrangement does seem to bear the hallmarks of an employment relationship.

“We were paid through the National Gallery payroll, taxed at source and wore staff passes,” they said. “We were required to attend staff training and team meetings, and received formal reviews of our work. But we had no job security or employment rights, including holiday pay and sick pay.”

Taking a stand

The educators have funded the initial legal work required to bring the case. They have now launched a campaign via CrowdJustice.  They aim to raise a further £55,000 to cover the costs of the employment tribunal this November.

“We are taking a stand against the exploitation of ‘bogus’ self-employment in the arts,” they said. “We believe in the importance of arts education and believe artists and educators deserve to be valued and treated fairly.”

Last week, the National Gallery came forward with the following statement on the matter: “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,” it said. “This change reflects the gallery’s strategy. A strategy to develop our programmes to increasingly reach new audiences and make the most of digital technology to widen our engagement.”

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