The Staircase Hall of the National Gallery in London. Photo by Rudolf Schuba, via Wikimedia Commons.
A group of 27 current and former art educators at the U.K.’s National Gallery are demanding the right to holiday pay and protection from unfair dismissal and discrimination. The artists and art lecturers claim that they have been given many of the same responsibilities and perks of full-time staff—from badges and access to the staff canteen to regular training and evaluations—but had no job security, employment rights, or holiday and sick pay. They also took guided visitors and school groups through the institution, leading workshops, giving talks, and providing information about exhibitions and artworks on view. In October of last year, the National Gallery sought to restructure its education department, and educators saw it as an unfair attempt to reduce wages and benefits.
“We are standing up for fair treatment for staff in the arts, and to protect the teaching expertise at the heart of our museums,” James Heard, an educator who worked at the National Gallery for 45 years, told the Guardian. “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.”
The plaintiffs are taking their case to an employment tribunal, where a preliminary hearing took place Monday and a full tribunal is scheduled for the end of the year, the Voice reported. In the meantime, only seven of the 27 employees—all but one of whom had worked for the National Gallery for over 10 years—are still employed there. The group of art educators has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help cover its legal expenses.
In a statement sent to Artsy, the National Gallery framed the terms of the dispute as the educators’ response to the Gallery’s attempt to formalize their employment and provide them with better benefits:
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.