National Gallery Interior. Copyright: The Board of Trustees of the National Gallery

National Gallery closed 27 rooms in strike

Patrick Steel, 01.08.2012
Gallery assistants strike over job cuts
Coinciding with the opening of the Olympics, gallery assistants at the National Gallery walked out on Friday to protest job cuts at the museum, forcing the NG to close 27 rooms in the gallery. A further strike on Saturday saw 30 rooms closed.

Museums Journal understands that some members of union PCS from Tate and the National Portrait Gallery, although not on the strike, also came out to demonstrate their support for the strike.

Wynne Parry, PCS secretary, said: “Prior to 2010 there was one gallery assistant for each room. Now gallery assistants are expected to look after two or three rooms.

“We think one gallery assistant per room is the best way of protecting those rooms and adding to the visitor experience.”

Last year, Nicolas Poussin’s painting Adoration of the Golden Calf was vandalised at the National Gallery in a room without an assistant. The union, which represents almost 90% of the National Gallery’s 150 gallery assistants, said this wouldn't have happened if a member of staff had been in attendance at the time.

A spokeswoman for the National Gallery said: “The National Gallery has increased the number of rooms in which a gallery assistant invigilates to two rooms rather than one.

“This is not unusual or controversial in the museum and gallery field. Quite the contrary, the majority of galleries within London, throughout the UK, across Europe and far beyond, all employ similar systems.

“The change has been made because the National Gallery and others believe this to be a more effective and reliable means of invigilation and it has been implemented with the full approval of the current national security adviser.

“The security of the collection is of paramount concern to the National Gallery.”

Parry said that PCS would continue to keep up pressure on the National Gallery, and is planning further strikes on Saturday 4 August and Saturday 11 August.

Comments

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Brendan Carr
MA Member
Community Engagement Curator, Reading Museum Service
04.08.2012, 01:39
There's nothing wrong with going on strike, (apart from the employers placing you in a position of last resort). It throws up questions in terms of museum ethics but knowing PCS union members I'm sure it's probably been a well considered and proportionate course of action. What poor timing that this dispute was not resolved by the National Art gallery's management and the trades union leaders before the Olympic Games arrived in your town. For most museums no one is in a union because we think we are lucky to have a job.
Wynne Parry
Industrial Officer, PCS
14.08.2012, 15:49
I can assure Brenden that this was a well considered and proportionate action and I regret that we have not been able to resolve the dispute. We will continue to attempt to do so. Many museum staff are in a union because they care deeply about the institution that they work in and want to be able to contribute to the inportant decisions made about their working lives. It is a pity that too often decisions are taken witthout consideration of the views of the people charged with delivering services. Our experience is that involving union members improves the quality of decision making and disputes are rare in our sector.
Brendan Carr
MA Member
Community Engagement Curator, Reading Museum Service
10.06.2013, 22:52
Wynne, your sector is that of professional trade unionism and now I read that you've earned promotion to National Officer; looking after the interests of the chief executives and senior management making up membership of the FDA union, I do hope you can influence their decision making!

My point about the statistically tiny density of union membership within the general museum workforce continues to have a negative bearing on our capacity to defend terms and conditions and fight job/skill losses. I think that if they were moved to, unions could do even more to promote membership and activism in the heritage sector so that damaging decisions are no longer, rarely disputed.

Should disputes mean one day strikes each time professional trade unionists and senior managers have been unable to find resolutions? No one I know is lucky to have a job in a museum, we've earned the privilege. That’s why any call to give up time and pay to stand on picket lines must be well-considered and likely to influence outcomes.