Protestors outside the British Museum earlier this week. Image: PCS Union

Campaign launched against privatisation in museums

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 21.03.2018
Protestors call on BM to bring services in house after Carillion collapse
A campaign has been launched by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) to reverse the privatisation of services at museums and galleries.

To mark the start of the campaign, PCS staged a demonstration at the British Museum earlier this week, calling on the institution to bring its services back in house after the collapse of the multinational firm Carillion.

The contractor had been responsible for managing a number of services on behalf of the museum, including cleaning, porter requests, maintenance, waste management, and the museum’s post room and switchboard.

The union highlighted the plight of staff who had been obliged to transfer from direct British Museum employment to Carillion when their roles were outsourced five years ago. According to PCS, those staff now face an uncertain future and are being paid by the official receiver on a short-term basis.

“The services these members provide are vital to the running of the British Museum, and we believe the museum's director and trustees should take responsibility and offer these members the security they deserve,” said PCS in a statement on its website.

PCS said that the collapse of Carillion proved that “privatisation isn’t working”. It continued: “Our museums, galleries and other public services are put at risk and the workers who keep the services going come under attack.”

Clara Paillard, PCS’s culture group president, said the use of private firms “usually means lower pay, precarious work and poorer services”.

“The British Museum should end the uncertainty of its cleaners, porters and building officers and bring them back in-house,” she told Museums Journal.

“A number of cultural institutions have already started to do that… The private sector is getting far too much power in our cultural institutions and we must reclaim art and culture back to the public service ethos."

A spokeswoman for the British Museum said: “We are working closely with the official receiver, PriceWaterhouseCooper (PwC), which is responsible for Carillion employees and is in charge of managing the liquidation process.

"At the request of PwC, current Carillion employees have stayed in their roles, we are grateful to them for having done so, ensuring we can keep the museum open for the public. In the longer term we are reviewing options and will be in discussions with alternative service providers.”

She said she could not discuss the details of those discussions for reasons of commercial confidentiality.

“The museum is a complex organisation and we have outsourced certain responsibilities to companies with specific expertise over many years,” she said.

Other museums have also faced issued related to privatisation, according to PCS. The Imperial War Museum’s security contractor Shield collapsed in 2016 and was bought up by another firm, leaving staff unsure about the future of their pensions.

Outsourced workers have also faced difficulty in maintaining their trade union rights. The National Gallery chose to de-recognise PCS after outsourcing 400 roles to the private firm Securitas in 2014, saying that most of the union’s members no longer worked for the gallery.

And Securitas itself decided to de-recognise PCS when it took over a visitor services contract at Tate last year.

Comments