About 40% of retail and catering staff employed by Tate Enterprises, a subsidiary of the gallery, are on zero-hours contracts.

Should museums employ staff on zero-hours contracts?

Rebecca Atkinson, 01.08.2013
Vote in our poll and have your say
Zero-hours contracts made the headlines last month after it emerged that high-street shop Sports Direct employs 20,000 staff on zero-hours contracts.

An investigation by the Guardian revealed several other organisations that employ staff on such contracts, including Tate Enterprises Ltd. The deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has said the government is reviewing the issue.

Staff on zero-hours contracts are not guaranteed any hours of employment, and are paid for only the hours they work. In the UK, workers on these contracts receive the national minimum wage or more, but employers are not obliged by law to offer sick leave or holiday pay.

About 40% of retail and catering staff employed by Tate Enterprises Ltd, a subsidiary of the gallery, are on zero-hours contracts.

A spokeswoman for Tate said: “Zero-hours contracts enable Tate Enterprises Ltd to manage the changes in staffing levels that are inherent in retail and catering operations and give employees on these contracts the flexibility to agree mutually beneficial working hours.

"Within Tate Enterprises Ltd, staff on zero-hours contracts accrue holiday pay and are entitled to company sick pay.”

A news analysis looking at zero hours contracts will be published in the print and online edition of Museums Journal in September 2013.

Should museums employ staff on zero-hours contracts? Vote in the poll and have your say.


Should museums employ staff on zero-hours contacts?


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22.08.2013, 12:28
Casual Contracts do work for the majority of people on them - they provide flexibility and the opportunity for a work/life balance. Don't forget that people do have a choice and can opt to get a full time or contracted part time job elsewhere to support their lifestyle. Personally, i was not fortunate enough to be offered a casual contract in a museum environment and worked for years in a coffee shop whilst volunteering in museums to get where i wanted to be in the museum/gallery profession. If you work hard, you will get where you want to be - it takes ambition, dedication & drive.
MA Member
15.08.2013, 08:22
A local authority I used to work for got rid of all its zero hours/casual contracts a couple of years ago, stating that it was poor practice etc. The thing is that they now use agency staff for those occasions where they would have used casuals in the past - what's the difference? I sure don't know! AND they've no real control over the level of skill, knowledge or anything else the person sitting on their front desk has. At least when they had casuals they were part of the team and were invested in hte museum in some way - they were trained to do the job they were doing and had access to other specialist museum training like all other staff and volunteers. Also, casuals in that authority did accrue paid leave - it was based on a complicated calculation around the number of hours they'd worked and was awarded quarterly. I can't help feeling the agency staff are worse off than the casuals ever were.
MA Member
14.08.2013, 16:58
What is missing from the debate about zero hour contracts is the differentiation between casual and zero hours contracts. I'm no expert, but I believe casual contracts do not restrict you to working for one employer, whereas zero hour contracts do. As a consequence you are regarded as having permanent employment so cannot claim benefit, unlike on a casual contract where you would just declare hours worked and the benefit adjusted accordingly. This difference has huge implications for people: their ability to manage their bills, have a living wage, and undertake extra employment, but it is never made clear in the discussions, and I'm sure is leading to confusion.

I have had two casual contracts in the past (one for a museum service, the other for an archive). I was working part time and the casual work boosted my income and the museum job definitely gave me my first foot in the door of working in museum education. I was able to fit it around my other work, accept and decline work with no fear, and knew that most months I had a bit of extra money to boost my meagre income. It was not, and never could be my main source of income, but excellent experience and a bit of a financial comfort blanket, whilst also feeling valued as a paid museum worker.

As a full time museum worker we had a bank of casual staff (casual, not zero hours) who were brilliant and the role fitted their individual needs. They were all used on a regular basis and considered part of the team.

Basically, I see nothing wrong with museums offering casual contracts to support the work of full time staff during busy periods, but zero hour contracts exploit people and only benefit the employer. Museums should know better!
MA Member
13.08.2013, 15:48
I am staggered by some of the comments supporting the use of zero hour contracts. Firstly it really isn't good enough to use personal anectodal views as evidence to support the principle. Secondly why should we sacrifice salary as part of the deal for working in museums? We'll be saying its a vocation and that we are all angels next! And I really must refute the comments from the US - I remember thae old chestnut view that paying a minimum wage in the UK would lead ti unemployment whcih it did not.

The thing that really riles me is that as a profession we talk about social inclusion, social justice even child poverty. And then about a quarter of those that have voted support a measure that leads to job insecurity and an unequal relationship between employer and employee. Come on - join up the dots.
Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
12.08.2013, 10:35
There are a lot of responses to this question on the MA's LinkedIn group page. I think the following (edited) comment from the US is particularly interesting:

John Ryan: In many museums here in the US, zero hour positions are primarily low-level, front-line types of positions. Many of the people in these roles are students, who do not have the capacity to work set schedules and retired or semi-retired people who wish only to work occasionally. Others, like educators in some cases, have several positions of the same nature and work as needed for program or tour needs.

If every person at an institution was full-time, the numbers of people that could reasonably be employed would be reduced significantly, greatly impacting the ability of the institution to provide the level of service necessary.

A different, but similar, situation revolves around the minimum wage. Here in NY, the legislation that recently passed progressively increasing the minimum wage will have a negative impact on the ability of smaller institutions to have staff in entry-level positions.

Our budgets may not be able to keep pace with the requirements, necessitating reductions in the number of staff as the minimum wage increases.
Paul Mullen
Information Officer, Guildhall Art Gallery
09.08.2013, 15:02
Employing people on Zero-hours contracts are an immoral way to treat staff and should be against the law.
MA Member
08.08.2013, 21:36
Loads of people in the museum sector started off probably working part-time or volunteering in museums while holding down another part time or fullish time job outside which ensured they could pay the bills. That's what I did and I have no problem with that, it might actually be a good thing.

Everyone realises that salary sacrifice on the part of nearly every museum professional is part of the deal of working in museums and you might even portray it is our contribution to the 'greater good'. However, please don't confuse that with the goings on in the retail and hospitality arms of big museums.

If these so-called profit making businesses can only make a profit for their museums by exploiting their workers, then it is time for those museums who benefit from this to find other ways to raise money to support their work. It's a busted economic model that is failing this country generally and we are all paying for it through the ever increasing 'in-work' benefits bill. If decision makers in museums can't see the bigger picture then it bodes very ill for the social justice agenda. Speaking even as someone who doesn't see himself as a liberal leftie, surely, the greater good goes beyond access to culture.
MA Member
08.08.2013, 10:05
Unfortunately, given the precarious funding position of most museums, it could be financially ruinous to the institution to offer guaranteed hours to staff when the money to pay wages comes from income that may or may not come in.

My organisation employs people on casual contracts with no guarantee of hours, and although I know that is not ideal for all employees, the museum simply would not be able to afford to pay staff if we don't have the bookings for them.

I have been working in museums for nearly 15 years, and my first positions were working as a volunteer, then as a casual with no guaranteed hours, and then on a limited hours seasonal contract. I used this experience to my benefit and have slowly climbed the ladder to a full-time permanent position in middle management in a museum. I know that both volunteer roles and zero-hours contracts are not ideal and leave the employee in a precarious financial position, but with such little money in the sector, organisations often have no choice but to work with staff in this way. I know that this means that gaining work in museum's would be prohibitive to individuals from poorer economic backgrounds, but I spent 18 months claiming benefit at this time, and took other agency jobs to top-up my income where possible - I also accrued debt.

I think that in spite of the best social intentions of museums, we should consider the question of the 'greater good' - continued good care of our history, heritage and museum collections, and of continued public access to these resources, or alternatively risking bankrupting organisations, losing collections and denying public access; not to mention the knock-on financial implications of staff redundancies, nobody employed on any contracts, lost tourism revenue in an area...

I would love everybody to be able to earn a living wage in a job they want, but economics simply doesn't allow this. There are many other issues that need addressing before museums are castigated for trying to do their incredibly good work with such limited resources.
MA Member
08.08.2013, 09:25
Retail/ cleaning and hospitality staff seem to be increasingly separated from other museum staff as these services are often contracted out. Museums also rely more heavily on unpaid interns, who are wealthy enough (or have someone to support them) to work unpaid for long periods. Hiring staff on zero hours contracts further institutionalizes this separation and creates two classes of employee. If museums are to fight for funding using a moral argument like social inclusion they should practice what they preach.
MA Member
07.08.2013, 17:12
I would love to have the luxury to say no. For someone who has just finished an MA in Museum and Heritage Studies, finding any sort of job, even on a zero-hours contract feels impossible at the moment, so anything would be better than volunteering occasionally and getting a job at Starbucks. That's the reality for a lot of people trying to start out in the sector ....
07.08.2013, 16:51
Just as museums should not be advertising volunteer positions in the Museums Journal, they should not be seeking to employ anyone on zero hours contracts. It would be another step closer to US style corporate welfare, where companies can pay their staff a pittance, knowing they will receive food stamps etc., to make up what should be a living wage.

MA Member
07.08.2013, 14:41
This new trend in economics is not to the benefit of anyone, especially the poorer paid. There can not be any benefit to not knowing your income on a monthly basis. In a sector launching strategies to fight Child Powerty this move would seem to be a contradiction at the very least
Alex Brown
MA Member
07.08.2013, 10:14
The nature of the work, particularly in visitor services means that there are times when museums are incredibly busy and times when they are less so. There are full time or part time contracts out there but the level of competition means they are very difficult to attain. Zero hours contracts give the first stepping stone to working in a creative environment that some may not have had otherwise and provided that the employer can be flexible and NOT demand exclusivity, then the employee is able to supplement this work with something else in order to pay the bills.
Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
05.08.2013, 11:04
Lots more comments about this on Twitter, including:

@EmmaLeilaScott I say no, it is impossible to live on this wage

@emallen31 no! I love my museum, but won't stay in this 'limbo' role much longer. SO many others in same position #rockandahardplace

@PaulFraserWebb Would suit me. I do a variety of things (some museum, some not) all with flexible hours. Would be another job in the portfolio.

@RachelCockett But some employers demand exclusive rights (no other contract without their permission). #zerohours

@trisaver it will embed further insecurity, fear and lack of compassion towards the collections/venues. Horrid idea.

@JohnMcArtsEd Obviously we want museums to hire, but there are better solutions, inc. work-based learning...
05.08.2013, 11:03
Wouldn't this make working in museums even less accessible? I struggle to see how you could afford to take a zero-hours contract unless you have another income stream (a second job, understanding parents or a partner). How could you get a mortgage or commit to a rental contract without a steady income? It just seems counter-intuitive in a sector that is trying hard to promote its inclusivity.
MA Member
05.08.2013, 00:24
Isn't it ironic that some organisations in the museum sector which now likes to wear its social justice credentials on its sleeve, should be resorting to exploitative employment practices. You don't have to be on the left to notice that it is the people in the the bottom half of the museum hierarchy who are the ones who are adversely affected by the increasing use of volunteers, unpaid interns, short-term contracts, zero-hour contracts, move to trust status, changes to pay and conditions and such like. Social justice can't be based on a system where there is one set of rules for the many, and another for the few, even if society operates on that basis most of the time.

As for the comments about holiday pay and sick pay, I recommend a trip for the Tate/Tate Enterprises management team to the People's History Museum in Manchester to learn about how people gained these rights and that these rights should not be seen as being gifts for which workers should feel grateful!!

I recall the Tate advertising for someone to work in their fundraising team working with and raising money from big companies and wealthy individuals. The pay (barely £16,000 full time in central London) stood in marked contrast to the people that they would have to charm. Art is seen as a luxury few can afford and it appears working in the Tate is similarly unaffordable.

MA Member
04.08.2013, 21:38
I have worked in a company which offers audio/multimedia guides in many museums and galleries including Tate Modern & Britain, National Gallery, Royal Academy, etc.

The majority of people work on Zero hours contact but also when there is not exhibitions we have to work very few hours per week or some times contacts are not renew. Many sales assistants only work 4 hours in a day to cover breaks, e.g. 12-4pm, from these 4 hours the sales assistant has to take 20 minutes break so only gets pay 3.75 in a £6.50 pph salary.

On the everyday we have targets, so we have to persuade visitors to take the audio/multimedia guide. Seating even on quiet times is not allowed and really working there for so many hours is really hard.

I have been asking workers from other galleries and the Zero Hours Contact is common, Tate catering gets pay only £6.40 so after taxes and transport the staff gets with nothing but money to pay the rent for poor rooms in London.

St Paul's Cathedral is the only place i know they care for the staff and I very much wish people working in all museums and galleries gets a decent salary for an expensive city as London.
MA Member
02.08.2013, 15:51
It's disgusting to see the Tate employing people under zero-hour contracts. They know full well that staff are keen to work for them because of the prestige of the Tate name, and they are exploiting that respect. Cruel.
Javier Calderon
MA Member
Visitor Assistant, Antenna International™
02.08.2013, 00:24
Working in many Museums is depressing for hundreds of people, who work really hard in such an expensive city as London. Zero hours is common for a large number of people. I always thought that working for museums was a decent place to work for, however, museums are a very difficult place to work in. In some areas is even worse than working for a high street shop and sales targets are part of the role of many. I have worked in most museums and heritage centres in London and I can only count 2-4 places where the institution monitor contracts and care about the staff even contacts staff.

Many people worked extremely hard and many do extra hours on lavish functions taking place after opening hours.

There should be a better treatment to all the staff and institutions must demand a fair salary and decent contract from contractors. St Paul's cares for the staff and could be a good case study.
MA Member
01.08.2013, 20:33
Running functions and events, I employ a couple of staff on zero-hours contracts. Due to the nature of the work, I cannot guarantee that there will be work for them every week so this all that I can offer them. Most of them are studying and/or working other jobs which fit around this work and I make it very clear the level of work they will likely expect to have during their contract.

However, in terms of things like retail, catering and guiding, where the hours they are open are the same every week, there should be no excuse for not being able to offer them set hours like in any other job.
MA Member
01.08.2013, 17:09
One of the best jobs I ever had in a museum was a zero-hours contract at an historic house, as a tour guide/ events assistant. It gave me great experience, and a continuity of service for 3 years whilst I was in other FT employment and doing my MA in Heritage Management.

I have always held zero hours contracts up for comparison with unpaid internships or the over-reliance of some organisations on volunteers. For example, I would not have been paid for any of the work I did in that contract if the historic house had been owned by the National Trust, and I imagine any of the people currently applying for an internship with the Ben Uri gallery (several positions, all unpaid, in central London) would be delighted to be offered a zero-hours contract instead.

I think that zero-hours contracts for such entry-level positions are essential for people who want to get into heritage, and like @AmandaArts says, especially those who are still studying.

That's all they are for though - plugging gaps in the rota, for junior roles. It is difficult to draw the line between use and abuse of the format.
Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
01.08.2013, 16:38

@AmandaArts No, it's not fair & disheartening if your career ambition is to work in museums. However, brilliant for those still studying.
Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
01.08.2013, 16:35
There have been a few comments about this on Twitter that I thought I would share -

@MarkClifford86 had to work zero hours in the past and it is not much fun. Some months its fine and others you get 15 hrs pay to live off.

@nicolagauld I can't believe you would even ask that question! No one should but is it not bad enough for museum staff already? #zerohours

@JohnMcArtsEd NO, nobody should! Precarity that #ZeroHours add to falling living standards incompatible with social/public remit of museums