Unions win battle for recognition at the National Maritime Museum

The long-running campaign for union recognition at the National Maritime Museum (NMM) in London has ended in success for the …
Patrick Steel
The long-running campaign for union recognition at the National Maritime Museum (NMM) in London has ended in success for the Prospect and PCS unions. At the end of last year, 52 per cent of staff at the museum voted in favour of recognition, which means that the organisation's managers will now have to work with the two unions.

Both sides lobbied intensely in the run-up to the ballot. The unions argued that lack of recognition meant staff at the NMM, the only national museum not to recognise a trade union, were being paid less and had worse terms and conditions than those at other national museums, while the management expressed concerns that unionisation would affect the museum's organisational flexibility.

In a letter to staff on 17 November last year, Roy Clare, the director of the museum, wrote: 'The unions cannot deliver more pay; the NMM's flexibility to operate successfully is at risk.

Recognition here would jeopardise the can-do culture that delivers results and success in the NMM far beyond achievements in museums that recognise unions. Because of these risks, if you are not sure, then my advice is vote no - don't take a chance on our future.'

Clare told Museums Journal that he was 'deeply sceptical' about figures that claimed the museum is falling behind other national mu-
seums. 'The unions are recognised in other museums, but haven't delivered a better pay settlement,' he said.

But Mac Pritchard, the chairman of the staff council and the branch chairman of Prospect, disagreed. 'It's difficult to say, because unless you have a strict grading scheme it's hard to compare like with like, but in roles like security where you can make comparisons, it certainly seems at the moment that we are behind most other national museums.'

The unions have been fighting for recognition since they were de-recognised in 1996. Years of lobbying culminated in a survey of staff in April last year that showed more than 70 per cent of those polled were in favour of recognition for PCS and Prospect.

At a meeting of trustees shortly after the survey, it was decided to postpone any decision until September, prompting the unions to go to the Central Arbitration Council.

After the result was announced, Clare sent a further email to staff that stated: 'I shall personally lead the initial meetings with trades unions, and will lend my strongest support to everyone on the staff to deliver first-class relations with the two unions involved.'

Emily Boase, the negotiations officer at Prospect, said: 'It may take a while for us to build a positive relationship, but we want to help the museum to become a success.'

PCS is balloting members later this month on whether or not to call a day of strike action on 31 January to protest about redundancies, relocations and the future of pensions at 19 institutions, 13 of which are museums or galleries. The organisations include the British Library, British Museum, English Heritage, Imperial War Museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Naval Museum, Science Museum, Tate and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Patrick Steel

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