Previous strike action at the National Gallery. PCS/Andrew Aitchson

National Gallery workers start 10-day strike

Rebecca Atkinson, 27.05.2015
Latest industrial action comes amid allegations that the gallery has fired a union rep
Visitor services and security staff at the National Gallery in London have entered a 10-day strike in protest against privatisation and the alleged sacking of union representative Candy Udwin.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union have already taken 24 days of industrial action against proposals to privatise all of the gallery’s visitor services – a move that will affect 400 of its 600 staff.

The latest strike started yesterday and will run until 4 June, hitting the half-term holidays. A rally has also been planned in Trafalgar Square on Saturday 30 May.

The PCS claims that Udwin was dismissed last week, following her suspension on the eve of the union's first strike in February.

“The case against her was that she shared information about the use of a private security firm with her full-time union official and asked him to take up the matter with the gallery,” the union said in a statement. “We believe this is a clear case of victimisation and a direct attempt to undermine our union and we will fight it every step of the way.”

The National Gallery said that it "would never comment on disciplinary matters relating to individual staff members while they are ongoing, as they are confidential matters between those involved and the National Gallery".

Almost 21,000 people have signed a statement calling for Udwin to be reinstated. High profile figures including the MP John McDonnell, comedian Russell Brand, film director Ken Loach and author Owen Jones signed a letter published by the Guardian on Saturday protesting against her dismissal.

The National Gallery said that it hoped to keep large parts of the gallery open during the dispute, including its temporary exhibition, Inventing Impression. It added that more than 5,000 school children have had their trips to the gallery cancelled to date as a result of strikes.

A spokeswoman at the National Gallery confirmed that an "external partner" was being appointed to manage some visitor-facing and security positions. “Affected staff will transfer across; there will be no job cuts and terms and conditions will be protected", she added.

The gallery has also announced that it will pay all staff the London Living Wage (currently at £9.15 an hour) from 1 July.

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