National Gallery staff begin a 10 day walkout today which will occur during the half-term holidays. Around 200 members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union start their strike which will run between 26 May and 4 June. The dispute stems over plans of the privatisation of gallery staff.
There have been 24 days of strikes since February, however this will be the longest period of industrial action so far. A rally has been planned for Trafalgar Square on 30 May. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘This privatisation plan is totally unnecessary and is damaging the well-earned reputation of the gallery and the sacking of our representative, Candy, is a disgraceful attack on our union.
‘Our demonstration is not just about this sell-off and the victimisation of Candy, it is an opportunity to oppose the kind of Tory cuts being cited as a rationale to hive off staff to the private sector.’
‘Disgraceful attack’ The strike follows privatisation plans which the gallery says would enable it to introduce a new roster to “operate more flexibly”. It also said it “proposed not only to meet the London Living Wage, but to pay a basic salary in excess of it” and confirmed there would be no job cuts. A spokesman said: ‘The PCS opposes the introduction of a new roster for some visitor facing and security staff which would enable us to operate more flexibly. In conjunction with the new roster we also proposed not only to meet the London Living Wage, but to pay a basic salary in excess of it. ‘As a result of the PCS position, we are now appointing an external partner to manage these services. Affected staff will transfer across – there will be no job cuts and terms and conditions will be protected.’
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This privatisation plan is totally unnecessary and is damaging the well-earned reputation of the gallery.” The dispute has intensified following the dismissal of union rep Candy Udwin, who was accused of sharing information about the use of a private security firm with her full-time union official. The union labelled the action “a disgraceful attack” and said Labour MP John McDonnell planned to raise it in the House of Commons. The gallery said it did not comment on individual disciplinary cases.
The National Gallery has posted on their website that Due to strike action affecting the National Gallery, they are expecting some room closures from 26 May to 4 June, that will limit public access to the collection. “We fully expect admission to our Inventing Impressionism exhibition to be unaffected by the disruption”, they added.