The claimants believe they should have been seen as employees rather than freelancers, and allege that they were unfairly dismissed in October 2017, when their contracts were terminated without consultation or benefits (a right they argue they would have been afforded if they were correctly classified as employed).
After having been in their roles at the National Gallery for years, their contracts were changed from temporary ones to permanent ones, but the educators claim that the number of contracts available was reduced to just eight – meaning only some staff were able to stay on – and that those who were given the new contracts had to accept lower pay and conditions.
This is the first time the right to collective consultation has been tested by ‘gig’ workers who believe themselves to be misclassified as self-employed, and the first time bogus self-employment has been claimed in the public sector, making this a landmark case not just for the art educators but for workers across the country.
One of the claimants, Marie-Therese Ross, explained: “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.”
Between them, the claimants believe they have worked over 500 years for the National Gallery, providing tours, talks, courses and workshops. While their employer said they worked on an “ad hoc” basis, the educators pointed out that they worked regularly, were paid through payroll, required to attend training and appraisals – in other words, the reality of their situation was not “ad hoc” in their eyes.
“Everything we did was for the National Gallery and not ourselves – we weren’t in any way self-employed,” Steven Barrett, an educator at the gallery for 13 years, said.
The case is currently being heard at the Central London Employment Tribunal. It began on Monday (26 November 2018) and will continue for ten days, with a judgment expected on December 07 2018.
It has attracted widespread attention, including from the Labour Party, which has come out in support of the educators.
Jeremy Corbyn and Stella Creasy spoke at a meeting with the claimants, some of whom are their constituents, to explain their concerns over bogus self-employment.
Creasy said: “The decisions of the National Gallery and the ramifications of this case go far beyond what happens to the 27 individuals who are taking on this class action.
“It’s really the test about whether our public services are behaving in an ethical fashion.
“Not just in the way that they pay people, but how they treat people when they want to make changes – and what this means in the world today when more and more people are being classed as ‘self-employed’.”
“I’m determined that a future government, a Labour government, will do things very differently, including ending bogus self employment.”