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Vox pop

Issue 111/12, p21, 01.12.2011
In light of a national museum advertising a freelance education post at less than £8 an hour, are museums exploiting freelancers?
Claire Adler, heritage learning consultant

“Freelancers are becoming the backbone of museum education services, as museums realise specialised temporary staff can deliver flexible services to schools and local communities efficiently. A national museum can’t hope to attract professional staff on a wage that is below the living wage for London of £8.30.

The advert says a degree is desirable, so it cannot be viewed as a starter job. Freelancers have additional costs that make this wage even lower, as they need to pay for advertising and insurance.

There is no sick pay or paid holidays and no job security for this zero-hours contract. This is not promoting a skills and experience-based workforce, but rather exploiting a weak market where people are desperate for work.”

Dean Veall, lifelong learning officer, Winding House, Ty Weindio, Caerphilly

“No, if offered as part of a structured work-related learning programme for young people, that also includes volunteering, work experience, internships and employment such as the post advertised. This form of learning will help diversify our profession by revealing opportunities for employment in museums.

But some national museums are guilty of exploitation in their use of unpaid interns. Recent adverts have been posted for interns in education, marketing and press with placements lasting up to five days for a minimum of three months with only expenses covered, which can be as little as £12 per week!

This is the real scandal. This practice will inevitably lead to a lack of diversity in our workforce and stifle innovation in our sector.”

Susan Raikes, head of learning and volunteers, British Museum

“It is vital that museums have roles that encourage entry into the profession. Very often, the first experience people have of the profession is through voluntary positions.

Casual, paid work at entry level is a different route and a way of gaining experience while studying or working. At the BM, our facilitators for the adult and family programmes are part of the pay and grading structure, and the tasks allocated to them are appropriate for the grade and remuneration. Our facilitators are members of staff and work on a casual basis.

They can choose activities to fit with other commitments. Their roles are to support full-time staff and freelance educators. Many facilitators have worked here while studying and are now going into first jobs.”

Gina Evans, collection project assistant, Museums Association

“For many, getting any paid work in a museum is an attractive prospect and is preferable to volunteering or completing a series of unpaid internships.

Undoubtedly, there will be a large number of keen applicants for this position, but employers should not take advantage of this situation.

To ensure a diverse and skilled workforce, it is important to have viable routes into the sector that provide decent career development opportunities and pay a living wage.

Freelance work can be one route into the sector, but it is important that freelancers are paid at a level that takes into consideration the casual hours being offered, the lack of job security, and reflects the experience and qualifications being asked for.”