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Former Turner Contemporary worker wins tribunal claim in redundancy and employee status row

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In Miss J Wheatley v Turner Contemporary an employment tribunal has ruled in favour of a former Turner Contemporary ‘navigator’ after the gallery denied she was entitled to redundancy, saying she was not an employee due to her casual worker and zero hours contract status.

Jan Wheatley was one of 40 workers who, in 2020, received an email informing them of the removal of gallery assistant and navigator roles with affected employees invited to apply for 16 newly created engagement assistant jobs with contracted hours.

The move meant the loss of around 24 roles and zero-hour personnel ended up with no job and were told they were not employees so not entitled to redundancy pay.

Some staff were eventually offered settlements and Jan herself was offered £5,000 but says she turned the sum down to continue the tribunal process.

She said: “I just kept saying it was not about the money, it was the principle and so I held out. When they realised I was not going to play ball their solicitor sent me a letter saying I would have to pay up to £15k legal costs if I lost.

“I got a bit worried that I would end up with a huge legal bill but at the hearing the judge made it clear they should not have done that as it only applies under certain criteria such as being vexatious or slanderous or being brought when there is no chance of winning the case.”

Jan had worked for the gallery since shortly after it opened in 2011. Although shifts were on a casual basis she worked every month bar three for a period of almost ten years, fitting the shifts in around a full-time job she took at the visitor information centre from 2012 after it became clear Turner Contemporary would not offer her enough work on its own.

The role of Navigators was to deliver workshops, exhibition tours and school sessions and aiding group conversations for gallery exhibitions.

Navigators were also involved in planning and preparation for upcoming exhibitions.

Turner Contemporary claimed each shift was an isolated term of employment and shifts were not connected but in the tribunal judgement Judge Corrigan said: “The nature of the work was not one-off isolated shifts but part of a connected series of work over the course of an exhibition and beyond, and built on their experience over time.

“There were times when she (Jan) undertook leadership/facilitative roles or represented the organisation at external meetings and fed back to the respondent (Turner Contemporary). She was booked for shifts on particular projects/exhibitions. Some of these shifts were booked months in advance.”

Judge Corrigan also highlighted the employee and employer relationship did exist with Navigators named under the Our Staff section of the Turner Contemporary website, training sessions – some mandatory – inclusion on staff outings, having a staff email and retaining uniform and security passes between shifts.

The judgement agreed that Jan was an employee and not working on a ‘contractor’ basis and she was awarded £745 redundancy pay.

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