Royal Museums Greenwich staff strike over unpaid breaks

Contract changes imposed on visitor and sales assistants
Patrick Steel
Visitor and sales assistants at Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG) went on strike yesterday over contractual changes that saw paid breaks reduced and core hours changed.

The strike came after the museum’s decision to harmonise terms and conditions for staff following its merger of visitor experience, admissions, and retail departments in October last year.

After failing to achieve agreement with trade union Prospect over the terms, the museum imposed the new contract, which affected around a quarter of the museum's staff.

In a message to members before the strike, Prospect’s negotiations officer, Caroline Hemmington, wrote: “The changes involved reducing breaks by 40 minutes meaning individuals work longer hours, making breaks unpaid and the working day has been increased, from 8am-8pm, so potentially RMG could move shifts to earlier or later in the day to avoid the need to pay overtime.

“Members have not taken this decision lightly. They feel strongly they have been disadvantaged and treated badly. Even though they are some of the poorest paid employees in the museum they are prepared to go without a day’s salary to enforce this point.

“We will not be asking the general public to avoid the museum but we will be canvassing their support, providing them with information about the dispute and seeking press coverage.”

RMG’s director, Kevin Fewster, said: “After just over a year of negotiations with the union, discussions ceased without full agreement being achieved so the decision was taken to impose the new terms and conditions for those staff who had not yet agreed them.

“While core hours are now 8am to 8pm, standard working days remain at 7.75 hours, after which voluntary overtime is payable. The legal requirement is for one 20 minute unpaid break after six hours work, so retaining two breaks for under eight hours work and maintaining salaries at existing levels we consider to be reasonable.

“Managers have discretion to allow further breaks in more demanding positions or conditions and anyone with health concerns or caring responsibilities is accommodated. In addition, the front of house staff subject to the change in breaks received an increase of 3% on base salaries on top of the average 2% increase for 2017.”

Asked whether the museum would be reinstating the paid breaks following the industrial action, Andy Bodle, RMG’s director, operations and human resources, said: “Since the new system is bedding in and accepted by the greater majority of staff there is no intention currently to revert although we remain open to discussion at any time under the terms of our collective agreement.”

A spokesman for Prospect said that, in addition to the contract changes, visitor assistants at RMG were working below the London Living Wage, which is currently set at £10.20.

Bodle said that RMG would meet the London Living Wage “when it is affordable and sustainable”, adding: “The recent structural review of the front of house team was carried out with a commitment to protecting jobs, so a balance has to be struck continuously.”

According to RMG's annual accounts, six directors, including Bodle and director Kevin Fewster, received performance bonuses additional to their salary in 2016-17, ranging from £15,000 to £25,000.

The highest salary at RMG in 2016-17 was 7.9 times more than the median remuneration of the workforce - £147,500 compared with £18,795 - a greater discrepancy than the British Museum (7.7), the Natural History Museum (6.1), and the V&A (5.1).

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