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

Turner Contemporary Credit Hufton + Crow

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.

Inside the gallery

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.

Photo Turner Contemporary

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.”

Waste Land exhibition previously at Turner Contemporary

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.

There was also evidence of a work line manager and Navigators having staff one-to-ones. Turner Contemporary’s claim that there was not a line manager and it was “just that particular person’s manner” when dealing with others was rejected by the Judge.

The Open at Turner Contemporary

The judgement says: “The claimant worked regularly and consistently for the respondent over a period of about 10 years in an ongoing relationship that had never been terminated. “Over those 10 years she worked every month, except 3, prior to the pandemic. She worked more some months than others, but was in continuous communication about her availability, and worked every exhibition throughout her employment and on other projects including the Youth Navigators project which ran over a period of years.

“Her work and role was integral to the structure of the organisation and the preparation and planning of its provision of exhibitions and other projects to the public. Her skills were clearly valuable in that preparation, planning and delivery.

“Despite the labels applied by the respondent her work was neither casual nor truly intermittent. It was regular part-time work.”

Turner Contemporary Photo Frank Leppard

Judge Corrigan said Navigators had a staff discount, were paid by PAYE, engaged in staff consultation and the staff forum, and were  included in social events and other trips.  She also noted they were not issued a P45 at the end of every assignment.

She summarised: “Looking at the relationship overall, the obligations on each party, the integration into the workforce; the consistency and regularity of the work; the nature of the communication between the parties, the degree of control exercised by the respondent all point to an employment contract. The relationship was nothing like that of an independent contractor.

“I consider there was an employment contract in place throughout the claimant’s relationship with the respondent. I consider this persisted during the lockdown closure and the planned closure for works and was brought to an end when the claimant was informed her role no longer existed in January 2021.”

‘A horrible ordeal’

The day-long tribunal hearing took place in April but a decision was not issued until three months later. The judgement agreed that Jan was an employee and not working on a ‘contractor’ basis and she was awarded £745 redundancy pay.

Jan said: “The judgement was quite conclusive, the Judge heard and accepted my arguments. And it applies to everyone who worked there. A lot of people signed NDAs (non disclosure agreements) when they reached settlement but were rooting for me to win. I didn’t sign anything.

“There are still a handful of people who didn’t get anything at all. All staff laid off at the same time as me are entitled to redundancy pay and Turner Contemporary should apologise and pay them accordingly.

“If Turner Contemporary had done the right thing in the first place, offering the redundancy to us, it would have saved them a lot of money (in legal costs).

“I wanted to do as much as possible because those people who worked there were put through a really horrible ordeal.

“It is good going forward that zero hour contracts have been replaced with proper contracts but I expected some acknowledgement or statement from Turner Contemporary.

“They have a big mission statement about being part of the community and treating people properly – if you are going to talk that talk then you have to have that in practice in your workplace. A lot of people were shocked that they didn’t do that.

“We all worked there with love for the place and being treated like that cuts through to who you are and makes you question your worth.”

‘Commitment to continue to learn and to amend practices’

A Turner Contemporary spokesperson said: “Turner Contemporary accepts the findings of the tribunal and reasserts its commitment to continue to learn and to amend its practices, always striving to better serve our staff, artists, our local communities, national and international audience.

“The findings relate to a historic case and the new Director and senior leadership team continue to work to ensure that all staff are treated fairly, and with care and compassion.”

Loss of jobs in Turner Contemporary restructure


  1. Well done Jan. Real tenacity. I hope the Turner have dramatically improved their employment practices.

    • Sorry let me get this right, the Turner offered her 5k but the court awarded redundancy pay was £745. Or have i misread? So whilst i would agree the Turners actions were distasteful. They’d obviously worked out they were overstaffed and needed to downman ( yes i know person). If the others were offered 5k due to having similar work history, quite where has Turner been unfair?
      The left wing theory that jobs are for life and services should be overstaffed for no good reason othe rthan to employ people is a concept that hopefully met its demise in the 60’s/70’s.
      Or have i totally misunderstood the situation?

      • Lc
        The problem was tc claimed that Jan and the others were not employees but independent contractors and therefore not entitled to employee benefits ie redundancy. The tribunal found many practices of employment.
        The redundancy figure was not I’m dispute, but tc tried to avoid legal costs by offering £5k, their legal costs probably exceeded the £5k on offer.
        Now Jan should fight for compensation for the poor treatment she received from tc
        This hopefully will be more than £5k.

  2. Congratulations Jan. Outrageous that a large organisation like Turner traded in zero hours contracts. Even more outrageous that they falsely threatened you with costs when these can only be awarded if you claim was either “frivolous or vexatious” & your application was clearly neither. In any event, the Tribunal itself has to issue you with a “costs warning” itself. So we’ll done and a rap over the knuckles for another bad employer!

  3. Yet another good reason not to visit the place,I went when it first opened ,it rubbish then and still is ,if people had to pay to enter ,it would close ,all of does is soak up public money,who pays the bills for this episode ,it won’t be the board ,public money again

  4. Turner Contemptable is a despicable place. Kicking us out during the second major lockdown and just before Xmas. Do many people have suffered and have been made to sign ” Gagging Orders” . No one would have known if it hadn’t been for Jan.

  5. Very brave and Well done to Jan stand up against their intimidation and poor employment practice
    Sorry to say that it’s “ a sign of the times “. that’s not to say it’s acceptable .

  6. I have always had my doubts about the place and the pretentious nature of its public offering.She is absolutely right, how can a facility like the Turner claim to be regenerating Margate and encouraging better conditions for workers, when they adopt a P+O style of management. Pomeroy was not on a zero hours contract, and the place only exists because of public funding, so the they had better mend their ways.

  7. Let’s not forget that Victoria Pomeroy got an OBE whilst being in charge of TC during the implementation of this unlawful policy .
    She’s since moved on to newer pastures .
    So did she jump or did she know the writing was on the wall with this outcome of said policy ?

  8. Well done Jan, a lot of employers treat their staff like s**t then now and then a staff member stands up to them and shows the employer for what the employers are. I would strongly advise every employee to join a union regardless of where you work. The unions legal help alone is worth its weight in gold. A family friend of ours was offered £3 thousand
    for an accident at work. Her firm never even paid her any wages when she was off on sick leave. Thanks to her belonging to unison she was awarded £135,000. Her firm told her “they did not recognise her union” but they had to recognise the law that the union used to bring her justice.

  9. The Turner gallery.has well and truly lost its way I fear as far as being rooted in the community. These bad work practices exposed did little to gain the confidence of local residents or the respect of decent people .
    Ii do like the space and have enjoyed many of the installations , again it is a pity there are few if any Notable Turner works in situ given it’s called the Turner…………

    Not to deviate too far well done to the individual going all the way with this case !

    Finally I do think it is a great shame that the cafe and area appears to be far more exclusive, now, for the “haves “and is even more out of reach of the pockets of many who would have appreciated a quiet coffee overlooking the sands from this location . After all it was public funds and private donations that provided the capital costs.

  10. I, too, would like to know how the TC is punished when Jan only got £745 as opposed to the £5k! All other comments reek of pandering, and I am of the firm opinion that behind the facade of indignation, Jan is hurting … Real bad…

  11. 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.

    Is that a form of bullying and scaremongering ? This from an arty place that is only there because of our taxes.

    Just shows the type of respect the art community have towards the working classes and our taxes. It really is about time our taxes stop supporting the art community. Like lots of hobbies and sport we have to support it ourselves from our wage packets. Why cant the art community ?

    Seems to be run very similar to TDC.

  12. Excellent news Jan! And brave to continue to the end of the judgement. NDA’s should be outlawed. Wishing you all the best for the future.

  13. well done ! for trying to do your very best. I applaud you.

    Anyone going into work either full time or gig, need some external legal assistance.

    The lady in red that comes on here (now&then)may have elped you but its often worth while joining a trade union just to get the legal advice and further on.

    Anyway, well done for exposing what happened. Kind of so disgusted it happening on my doorstep.

  14. I worked at TC from 2009 for 7 years. Staff were treated terribly particularly by the then Director. When you fell out of her favour, it was off with your head. I was offered money to leave but fought for more given I had given 7 years of my life to TC. I too won! I wonder how much money they have used to pay people off? I am aware of many people who were hurt by the then director and and pleased she has moved on, although pity the next victims. I hope other people will leave posts on here, there is so much more to this story, going back years!!

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