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Artists and Lecturers Dispute ‘Freelance’ National Gallery Employment

27 educators are taking the London gallery to an employment tribunal, demanding that they be recognized as employees

National Gallery, London. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

National Gallery, London. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

National Gallery, London. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

A group of 27 art educators, comprising artists and lecturers, have brought a case against London’s National Gallery to an employment tribunal. They allege unfair dismissal after many years of employment by the celebrated London arts institution. They are demanding that the gallery recognize them as employees, not freelancers.

The educators are running a crowdfunder on the website CrowdJustice to support their legal fees. In a statement, the group said: ‘In October, we were dismissed from the Gallery, with no recognition of our history of employment. We have been forced to take legal action and we are bringing a case of unfair dismissal.’

The claimants say that they have been the victims of age and sex discrimination. The educators were employed by the gallery to engage with school groups and other public visitors, offering guided tours and workshops. While the gallery recognized them as freelancers, they were paid through a taxed PAYE system, wore staff passes, were trained, appraised and given other markings of official employee status. But ‘we had no job security or employment rights, including holiday pay and sick pay,’ they say.

One claimant, James Heard, who has worked at 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,’ according to a statement. Another claimant Joe Lewis said: ‘We are asking for a longstanding contribution to the National Gallery to be recognized and valued. We are asserting our rights as employees, and at a minimum “workers”.’

The gallery told The Guardian: ‘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.’

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