The restructure of Tate's commercial arm has led to growing conflict between the organisation's management and workers, who are currently taking part in industrial action.
Tate Enterprises Limited (TEL) is making half of its commercial workforce – 313 roles – redundant as a result of the Covid pandemic. More than 100 workers have been taking part in strike action at several of the gallery’s four sites since mid-August.
However, a recent open letter from the PCS Union to Tate’s senior management accused the organisation of undermining the ongoing industrial action.
The letter claims that TEL has been offering retail shifts to staff from its catering team, Tate Eats, without “acknowledging that this is to cover striking workers”. Tate Eats staff are not represented by PCS and were therefore not balloted for industrial action.
The letter states that, as these workers are also at risk of redundancy, “many will feel pressure to take these shifts, especially as their performance is being assessed over this period”.
The letter says that “not only is it condemnable to use the strike-breaking tactic of moving workers to roles outside the scope of their contracts”, but moving staff in this way “carries larger risks” to health and safety procedures during the pandemic.
The union also accuses TEL of offering non-striking employees a different entry point to Tate Modern so that they can avoid crossing the picket line. “This not only undermines the lawful industrial action, but once again, undermines the health and safety regulations agreed with the union during the pandemic,” says the letter.
The union further alleges that Tate has outsourced several visitor experience assistant roles to the external contractor Securitas at a time when it could instead be redeploying the Tate Enterprise workers who are at risk of redundancy. “This move toward a larger un-unionised, casualised workforce is condemnable at all times, but during a pandemic… it is nothing short of deplorable,” says the letter.
In a statement to Museums Journal, a Tate spokesman addressed some of the points raised in the letter. He said that “individual decisions about whether or not to take shifts did not have any impact on the selection process in Tate Eats and that all those working in the shops in this way had received a full retail induction and health and safety training”.
He added: “The decision to keep the shops open in this way is aimed at maximising income from the much reduced number of visitors we are able to welcome, and therefore safeguarding as many TEL jobs as possible.”
The spokesman denied that Tate had a policy of encouraging employees to use alternate entrances in order to bypass picket lines. He said: “We are investigating whether any managers or colleagues have not been following the guidelines, and will remind people of the need to do so as necessary.”
Tate also said that the recruitment advert posted by Securitas had been mistaken, and that the gallery is not currently recruiting any new visitor experience assistants or expanding its use of outsourced Securitas roles. “An advert was posted by Securitas which mistakenly said that roles were available based at Tate, when in fact these positions could involve work at any of the numerous organisations supported by Securitas,” said the spokesman. “We have asked Securitas to correct this."
He added: “We are offering preferential treatment for any TEL colleagues for any appropriate roles which may become available at Tate, and Securitas are also giving preferential treatment to any colleagues from TEL in their recruitment.”
Tate is facing a £50m shortfall in self-generated income this year and says that government assistance “will not come close to plugging this gap”.
A statement on its website says: “This means we are having to make some incredibly difficult decisions to ensure Tate can survive, including a dramatic reduction in the amount we spend across all our operations.”