02:12, July 16 70 0 theguardian.com

2018-07-16 02:12:05
Employment tribunal hears cases against National Gallery

Art educators who allege they have been sacked by the National Gallery, many after decades of service, are bringing their cases to an employment tribunal in the latest legal row over the gig economy.

A group of 27 artists and art lecturers who worked in the building overlooking Trafalgar Square in London, are claiming unfair dismissal and seeking to be recognised as employees rather than freelancers.

Lawyers for the claimants will on Monday argue in a preliminary hearing that they suffered age and sex discrimination, should have been fully consulted and are entitled to retrospective holiday pay.

The educators welcome school tours and members of the public, giving talks, workshops and information about the history of the institution and the works of art on display.

James Heard, the longest-serving claimant who worked there 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.”

Most recent test cases on employment status have related to private sector firms such as Uber, Deliveroo and Pimlico Plumbers. The National Gallery, the educators say, demonstrates that exploitation also exists in the state sector.

The National Gallery said: “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.”

While insisting they were freelancers, the gallery paid them through a taxed PAYE system, gave them official’s badges, trained them, subjected them to regular appraisals, provided offices and access to the staff canteen, according to the claimants. In effect, it is alleged, they were employees.

Of the 27, most have been dismissed. Seven are now working, under protest, on less well-paid staff or casual contracts. Their treatment is said to be typical of many in the underfunded museum and galleries sector.

The claimants have set up a crowdfunding website to raise funds for their legal claim. Jo Lewis, who has worked for the National Gallery for 16 years, said: “We are asking for our longstanding contribution to the National Gallery to be recognised and valued. We are asserting our rights as employees, and at a minimum as ‘workers’.”

Marie-Thérèse Ross, a claimant who worked for the National Gallery for 22 years, said: “We love the gallery and recognise its importance in artistic and cultural education. However, despite our attempts to raise our concerns with the gallery, we as a group have not been given the rights to which we believe we are entitled.”

Marie van der Zyl, a solicitor at the law firm Gordon Dadds LLP which is representing them, 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 National Gallery also stated: “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.”

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