Workers success in first public sector gig economy case could strengthen the position for future contractors, warns Mackrell Turner Garrett

Posted on Friday March 1, 2019

Donna MartinSelf-employed contractors working in the public sector who feel that they should be classified as workers may take action following the latest tribunal decision, according to London-based international law firm Mackrell Turner Garrett.

A group of art educators from the National Gallery, known as the NG27, have been told that they should have been afforded the same rights as some permanent staff members at a tribunal in London.

This case is thought to be the first test of the ‘gig economy’ model in the public sector, with some suggesting that it could set a precedent as a test case for other workers.

The claim was brought by the NG27 after they were let go by the gallery in 2017, which led them to launch a campaign to be recognised as employees, rather than freelancers or self-employed contractors.

In bringing the claim they said that on this basis they had been unfairly dismissed, a point that was rejected by the judge, who did agree that they should have been classified as workers.

Looking at the case, Donna Martin, Head of Employment and Immigration Law at Mackrell Turner Garrett, said: “Employees have more employment rights than workers including protection against unfair dismissal, but like employees, workers are entitled to holiday and sick pay, minimum wage and protection against discrimination.

“The NG27 claimed that under their former work arrangements they were not given any paid holiday, sick pay, pension or maternity pay, however, they were paying taxes via the gallery’s payroll and were directly controlled by management – conditions more akin to a worker or employee.

“Despite the National Gallery calling on the case to ‘not be likened to the gig economy debate’, the finding does draw some very obvious parallels to cases brought against the like of Hermes and Uber.”

Donna believes that there may be more contractors and freelancers working in the public sector across the UK in a similar position, who do not consider themselves to be in the gig economy, but who share near identical work arrangements.

“I suspect that there are potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of self-employed individuals out there who are looking at this case and thinking that there are similarities to their own position in the public and private sector,” added Donna.

“With the heightened attention to working practices at the moment, it is important that employees and employers are aware of current employment rights and the distinctions between an employee, worker and self-employed contractor, as in all cases neither party can afford to get it wrong.”

If you would like advice on this or any other issue relating to employment law, please contact Donna Martin