Time for a pay rise?

Alistair Brown, 17.02.2016
Museums and galleries should continue fighting for fair pay
“Britain deserves a pay rise!” Everyone seemed to agree on this last year.

The unions, Labour and, perhaps more surprisingly, the Conservatives, wrapped themselves in the rhetoric of higher wages throughout the election and into the autumn.

George Osborne announced a new, mandatory living wage of £9 per hour by 2020 at the autumn statement, and wage growth across the economy is at its strongest for six years, with average wage inflation of 2%.

But is any of this reflected in the museum sector? Anecdotally, no. For many colleagues, the public sector pay freeze that limits pay increases to 1% is entering its sixth year.

The freedoms given to the nationals mean new contracts and worse pensions – not to mention the falling wages of those contracted out to external suppliers. And throughout the sector, the increasing pool of freelance workers are rarely on wages to match salaried positions.

The Arts Professional salary survey found that some 36% of those working in the arts (including museums) drew at least part of their income from freelance work.

Working in a museum is still a "dream job" for many. Elizabeth Merritt, the director of the Center for the Future of Museums has written compellingly about the "salary sacrifice" that people willingly accept when they join the sector in the US, and the same thing is clearly happening in the UK.

It is fair to say that there will never be a recruitment crisis in the UK’s museums, regardless of pay levels. But this means that the laws of supply and demand, combined with public sector budget cuts, are combining to make low pay a chronic condition affecting the sector.

But as a matter of justice, surely museum professionals deserve a pay rise every bit as much as those across the rest of the economy? Should the rising tide not lift all boats? Others in the cultural sector who are subject to the same pressures have certainly not given up on the hope of fair pay.

The Paying Artists campaign run by a-n, an organisation set up to support visual arts practice, seeks a fair deal for artists exhibiting works in galleries and museums, and has recently published a set of draft guidelines to support galleries and artists to negotiate a fair exhibition fee.

Accurate pay data and wide consultation across the sector must be the next steps for museums in order to help ensure fair pay for all – watch this space for more from the MA over the next few months.


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05.10.2016, 13:16
Every MA conference promotes the importance of volunteers, and many MGS events I have been to also tout it as the #best way# to get into museums. This is not a sustainable model for bringing in new, diverse talent into the museum field, and certainly not one that our national bodies should be encouraging.

I hate to say this, but perhaps if a few more museums closed down, people might realise how important they are in the cultural environment and stop taking workers for granted. Why should we have to work for free??
MA Member
24.02.2016, 14:39
Nobody is getting a pay-rise, certainly not in local council-run museums. The 'salary sacrifice' is just a fact of life. It is getting more depressing by the week as fewer and fewer employees feel they have no choice but to step up to the task of doing jobs way above their pay grades, all the time, because there's been no-one else to do them since the last round of redundancies. There's never a chance of promotion or pay rise to go with all the extra responsibility. The appraisal process managers are obliged to go through with their staff every year is cringeworthy and farcical on that front. People are getting angry, and I don't blame them.

19.02.2016, 10:28
Unless pussyfooting sycophants & the career-minded credulous begin to expose the hypocritical empire-management of creative institutions, this is a lost cause.

What makes it worse is the incessant moaning & whinging of complicit sector workers with scant intention of challenging the inequalities so patently obvious.

Sadly far too many, cosy Arts and Culture officers have been watching the sector divide between elite and minions for a very long time now. If the wannabes haven’t yet grasped the fact that the big hats have big heads and little desire to share the sector spoils, then I suggest it is highly unlikely to happen.

It is a well known fact in ‘MuseumWorld’ that lower paid colleagues have a perilously weak foothold. This can ONLY start to change if:
1 - The high salaries and unwarranted bonuses paid to directors and their counterparts ceases immediately
2 - The cynical move towards increased voluntary roles is arrested
3 - People purporting to ‘love museums’ expose the inherent class framework and finally stand up to be counted.

For the record, I believe the #PayingArtists campaign is a rogue issue and a distraction from the fair-pay argument.
17.02.2016, 16:21
"It is fair to say that there will never be a recruitment crisis in the UK’s museums"

That may be the case in roles where the museum is the key factor - curatorial, archivists, researchers, museum assistants. But if you're looking to work in HR, IT, building services, or many other roles, it may be only incidentally the case that you're working for a museum.

In my own field, fundraising, there's certainly no shortage of applicants for roles - but the quality of these applicants has dropped off markedly in the last three or four years. Roles where previously we'd have been choosing between several good candidates, we're now having to readvertise to get one.

It's not that there aren't good fundraisers out there, but they're not applying for the roles we have. Why would you choose to take up a role as a major donor fundraiser for a museum, when you could do exactly the same role for a charity and earn £5k more? (Or work for a university and earn £15k more).

It's not (quite) a recruitment crisis - yet. But I'm not sure it's that far away.