NMS workers threaten strike in dispute over seating

Geraldine Kendall, 21.12.2016
Row reflects existing tensions between staff and management
Workers at the National Museum of Scotland (NMS) are threatening industrial action after the museum turned down a request for designated staff seating for visitor experience assistants.
 
Staff have been told that they are unable to have their own chairs in galleries, although they are allowed to use public seating areas.

However, the visitor assistants say that they feel uncomfortable doing so while on duty, and the arrangement makes it more difficult for them to get on with their work. A number say that long hours of standing are affecting their health, leading to back and ligament strain.

The museum’s policy is at odds with other national institutions in Scotland, such as the Scottish National Gallery and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, which do provide seating areas for staff.

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union has condemned the decision taken by management, saying it would be easy to agree to the union’s request. The museum's PCS representative Robert Burns told the Telegraph that the policy was “low-level bullying from management”.

A PCS spokesman said: “The objection seems to be based on aesthetics rather than health and safety. We are trying to get a resolution and avoid industrial action.”

“We will have another meeting in January to see if there has been any movement from management.”

Museum workers may then decide to trigger a ballot on industrial action, which could include strikes over the busy Easter period.
 
The relationship between management and museum workers has been strained since a dispute over weekend pay allowances, which was resolved earlier this year following months of strike action.  

“Things have obviously been a bit tense since the long-running dispute ended,” said the PCS spokesman.

Lothian MSP Neil Findlay accused the museum of taking “a confrontational line” in its dealings with the union, according to the Telegraph.
 
"The management really need to think again about the way they are conducting industrial relations, otherwise the reputation of the museum will suffer," he added.

NMS’s head of visitor experience, Julie Matthews, said: "We maintain a positive dialogue with the unions through monthly meetings and have been discussing designated seating as part of a request from union representatives to review previously agreed staff rota arrangements.
 
“We have today reached a collective agreement with both Prospect and the Public and Commercial Services Union regarding rota arrangements for our visitor experience assistants.

"The role of visitor experience assistant is an active one in which staff move around the museum to welcome and engage with our visitors. All staff have access to seating throughout the galleries for use at their discretion, and any staff member with additional needs is supported on an individual basis.”

Update
21.12.2016


NMS has confirmed that an agreement has been reached the unions regarding rota arrangements for visitor experience assistants, and therefore there will be no industrial action. The article has been updated to reflect this.



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