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Braine v National Gallery: The ‘gig economy’ reaches the public sector

In the latest significant and high profile case on the employment status of ‘gig economy’ workers, Cloisters’ Chris Milsom (instructed by Gordon Dadds LLP) is acting for 27 artists and art lecturers who worked, in some cases for decades, for the National Gallery until their dismissal in October 2017.  The case has drawn widespread attention in the press and media and the Claimants have enjoyed vocal public support from Jeremy Corbyn amongst others.

The hearing, taking place this week in the London Central Employment Tribunal, is the first major test case to consider employment status in the public sector.  Recent high profile cases have been concentrated in the private sector and involved large and well-known companies such as Uber and Deliveroo.  The Claimants in the National Gallery case, whose collective service to the National Gallery exceeds 500 years, worked in a variety of roles, ranging from conducting tours of the gallery and workshops to community outreach sessions.  They claim that they were dismissed en masse in October 2017 without any consultation or receiving the benefits to which they were entitled.

In support of their claim for employee status, the Claimants argue that they undertook regular work, were paid and taxed through PAYE, and were subject to appraisals and mandatory training requirements. 

In addition to determining the Claimants’ status, the Tribunal will also be required to decide a novel point of law – whether ‘workers’, as distinct from ‘employees’, are entitled to participate in a collective consultation process prior to the termination of their contracts.  The ultimate outcome of the case on that point could have far-reaching consequences for workers and employers, and, if it is favourable to the Claimants, would strike another significant blow for workers’ rights.

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