The National Gallery is seeking to privatise up to 400 of its 600 posts

National Gallery staff vote in favour of strike

Gary Noakes, 23.01.2015
Union ballot sees 94% support strike action
National Gallery staff have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action over the possible transfer of employment contracts to a private firm.

About half the gallery’s 600 staff were eligible to take part in the ballot by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), with a 62% turnout of members voting 94% in favour.

“It’s a pretty clear message they are sending to managers – they’re saying they want to work for the National Gallery and not a private security firm,” said PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka.

He claimed the “reckless sell-off plan” risked damaging the worldwide reputation of one the UK’s greatest cultural assets.

The gallery is seeking to cut costs following a 15% drop in funding since 2011. It wants to outsource about 400 posts, including security, visitor services and ticketing, with a tender process due in April.

The ballot follows the deployment of personnel from security firm CIS, which has already been awarded a contract for the gallery’s Sainsbury Wing and staffed the recent Rembrandt: The Late Works exhibition – seen by permanent employees as a warning shot.

During the exhibition, the CIS workers were employed on three-month contracts and paid £10 an hour by the company, which mostly provides concierge and reception staff to commercial premises.

Any action, which requires seven days’ notice, would take place from early February. PCS spokesman Richard Simcox said the union had “made it clear” that it was prepared to be flexible but that the gallery had halted negotiations late last year.

“We do not accept that this is the answer to whatever problems the gallery has,” he added.

Simcox said the gallery’s importance as a national cultural institution meant management were being “reckless” in appointing untrained employees. “CIS staff have been told it is not their job to answer questions about the paintings,” he claimed.

The National Gallery said in a statement: "Each proposal for a way forward has been rejected and we are very disappointed we have been unable to find common ground on which to develop the necessary changes.
 
“Therefore the National Gallery will now continue to seek a partner to manage the provision of some of our visitor-facing and security services, protecting the existing terms and conditions in their present state.
 
“This will also mean that we will be able to fulfil our pledge to pay all our staff the London Living Wage as a minimum, starting from 1 April.
 
“In the event that the National Gallery does sign a contract with a supplier, Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations will apply in order to protect the terms, conditions and interests of any staff who transfer to the new supplier.  This is a transfer process and there will be no redundancies as a result of this undertaking."

The dispute comes as Nicholas Penny prepares to step down as the director of the National Gallery.

The Financial Times is tipping Anglo-Italian Gabriele Finaldi, the co-director of the Prado, as his replacement. The appointment, which must be approved by the prime minister, follows Penny’s retirement. He will remain until his successor is in place.

Update
23.01.2015


Headline and article updated following the results of the union ballot. The article was also updated to include a comment from the National Gallery.

Comments

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David Fleming
MA Member
Director, National Museums Liverpool
23.01.2015, 11:07
Never a good sign, when a publicly-funded organisation fails to comment when faced with a bona fide media enquiry. The public has a right to expect transparency from organisations it funds, even if only an explanation that a matter is confidential; especially when there is already speculation out there.


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