Da Vinci exhibition faces threat of staff walkout

Attendants balloted for action in National Gallery security row
Gary Noakes
The National Gallery (NG) faces possible disruption to this month’s Leonardo da Vinci exhibition following a threatened protest by staff.

Gallery attendants are considering action during the Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan exhibition after some were told that they would have to watch over two rooms rather than one.

Following the spending review, the gallery has a policy of not replacing staff when they leave. Attendants claimed the cutbacks allowed the vandalism of two Nicolas Poussin paintings in July because an employee was in an adjoining room.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) opened an indicative ballot last month to test sentiment.

The timing meant it was too late to prompt full-scale industrial action at the start of the exhibition on 9 November, but it could threaten it over the Christmas period as the exhibition runs until 5 February.

“It is not about strike action, it is about what sort of measures they feel they may be prepared to take,” said a PCS spokesman.

Disruption is most likely to involve walkouts for part of the day. These will be particularly effective as timed admissions will be disrupted if galleries are cleared.

The latest dispute follows last year’s pay negotiations, when staff at the gallery staged a series of three-hour walkouts.

A National Gallery spokeswoman said: “We have not received any notification that there will be a ballot for industrial action, but we will be prepared for it.”

One-third of National Gallery rooms are invigilated by a single member of staff covering two areas.

In a statement, the National Gallery said: “The change in the number of gallery assistants is an incremental one and claims that the National Gallery is ‘halving its surveillance’ are untrue.”

The spokeswoman added that any staff reductions were the result of natural turnover.

“What we are doing is nothing new,” she said. “Other galleries do exactly the same.”

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