Staff at London’s National Gallery are to stage a five-day strike starting today, as a protest over the privatisation of jobs and services within the gallery. The walk-out will take place from this morning and carry on until the 7th February. The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union stated that its members had voted by more than nine to one in favour of industrial action. The National Gallery have retaliated by saying that the proposed changes were “necessary” and that it was “disappointed” by the strike vote.
Up to 250 workers are expected to be involved in the dispute over the gallery’s latest cost cutting plans, which PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka has described as “reckless”. He added; “This five-day walkout will put the National Gallery in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. “The sell-off plan… risks damaging the worldwide reputation of what is one of the UK’s greatest cultural assets.”
The National Gallery have kept their agenda a well kept secret from the public, but it is understood to include plans “to privatise almost all staff, including those who look after the paintings, providing six million annual visitors with one of the best museum experiences in the world.
“They have also reneged on a promise to introduce the London living wage, meaning the institution is the only major museum or gallery in the capital that does not pay it.”
In a statement issued by the National Gallery, they insisted that its modernisation plans would entail no job losses while enabling it to operate with “greater flexibility”. Directors expect the gallery to remain open throughout the industrial action, with some education events cancelled during the strike and the possibility of some rooms being closed off to the public.
The National Gallery added, “Due to PCS members of National Gallery staff taking part in industrial action on 3 – 7 February 2015, today (Tuesday 3 February 2015) the following rooms are open – Rooms 9, 10, 12, 51 – 66, Central Hall, Room 1 and The Sunley Room. All planned Education events have had to be cancelled or rescheduled.
Retail services (the National Gallery Dining Rooms, the National Café and the shops) are not affected by this dispute. Notices are also displayed at the main entrance points to the National Gallery – the Getty, Portico, and Sainsbury Wing entrances are open, Orange Street Entrance is closed.
The National Gallery stated; “We are a public asset and we have a duty to ensure the collection and the Gallery itself is accessible as much as possible, to as many people as possible. We take this task seriously and therefore have an ongoing modernisation programme designed to encourage a broader audience to access the wealth of cultural inspiration the National Gallery has to offer – so far this has included initiatives such as introducing Wi-Fi, a Membership scheme and photography. We also have ambitious future plans to further extend our Education programme and public events”. “However in order to allow these plans to be implemented we need to introduce a new roster for some visitor facing and security staff to enable the National Gallery to operate more flexibly”.
Photo: © P C Robinson Artlyst 2015 All rights reserved