The 27 claimants who took the National Gallery to tribunal in a dispute over their employment rights have won their case, after a judge dismissed the gallery’s claim that the group were self-employed.

The claimants – known as the NG27 and including artists and art lecturers – had collectively worked for the National Gallery for more than 500 years in various educational roles. The group funded their case with a successful crowdfunding campaign that raised over £75,000.

On ending their existing work arrangements in October 2017, the gallery had described them as self-employed and they were invited to apply for a reduced number of new contracts. All 27 had been paid and taxed through the payroll in the same way as employees.

The employment tribunal concluded that the 27 were in fact entitled to be considered ‘workers’, giving them the right to holiday, sick pay, pension and maternity pay – which they had not been receiving. The judge stated that “in short, the claimants worked ‘for’ the gallery as members of its team of educators”.

Karly Allen, who worked for the National Gallery for 18 years, said: “This judgement cannot take away the fact that we have lost our jobs and the close relationship with the gallery which we loved; it does go some way to acknowledge the losses we have suffered and our contribution to the life of the gallery.”

Marie van der Zyl, partner at Ince Gordon Dadds LLP who ran the case on behalf of the 27 claimants, said: “This is an important case for all those who have unconventional working arrangements. The world of work is changing and there will be many individuals who are unsure of their status and rights. This case gives those individuals hope.”

Specialist employment barrister Adam Ohringer said: “We have become accustomed to private employers denying workers their legal rights. This is a wake-up call to the public sector and, I am sure, the first of many cases in which public bodies will be challenged over the misclassification of their staff and the circumvention of employment rights.”

Describing the impact of the ruling, a statement from the NG27 group said: “This case is not only important legally; it is also important for our nation as these individuals were the collective face and knowledge of one of the country’s most loved art galleries in central London’s Trafalgar Square.

“This is not the end of the matter for the claimants, who will need to continue to fight their case to ensure that their full rights are acknowledged as a result of this judgment.”

Responding to the judgement, a spokesperson for the National Gallery said it welcomed “the clarity provided by this decision” and that it was “considering the detailed implications of the decision with its legal advisers”.

The statement continued: “The gallery had no wish to get involved in litigation in relation to this matter. From the outset we would have welcomed the opportunity to resolve the issue through mediation, but the claimants did not respond to the gallery’s requests to enable these discussions to begin since the claim arose.

‘The gallery has not ‘dismissed’ anyone as part of this process. The majority of the people involved are still providing these services to us on the same basis as previously, whilst others involved in these claims have already accepted either employment or new contracts with us.

“It is important to state that this case should not be likened to the ‘gig economy’ debate that has been in the news recently, with legal cases brought against Hermes, Uber and Deliveroo. In fact, the National Gallery situation is exactly the opposite.

“The ‘gig economy’ cases have arisen out of organisations opting to offer people ad hoc employment, zero hours contracts and no opportunity for job security. We have taken a deliberate choice to move towards a model that offers people secure employment, with additional pension and worker benefits.”

NG27 Draw With Us event, Trafalgar Square London 27 July 2018. Courtesy: NG27

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