British Museum Staff Plan Another Weeklong Strike, Calling the Institution’s Rebuff of Its Demands ‘Deeply Insulting’

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For the second time this year, workers at the British Museum in London are planning to go on a multi-day strike. Visitors services and security staff in the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) have announced that they plan to walk off the job from July 11 to 16.

The planned six-day strike is part of a larger dispute between the government and British trade unions representing civil servants over pay, pensions, and jobs that has been ongoing since November. Cultural organizations with PSC membership include Historic England, the Wallace Collection, National Museums Scotland, the National Museum of Liverpool, and the National Museums Scotland, which together with the British Museum make up the PCS Culture Group.

In mid-February, museum staff announced a week-long walkout, which caused disruption to some programming and meant that only visitors with pre-booked tickets could visit the galleries. The staff had also walked out earlier that month as part of a nationwide strike organized by the PCS, which forced the institution to close its doors for the day. Artnet News reached out the British Museum to ask what the planned strike could mean for programming and visitor access, but did not receive a reply by publishing time.

Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) picket outside British Museum in London during a strike in February 2023. Photo by Rasid Necati Aslim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) picket outside British Museum in London during a strike in February 2023. Photo by Rasid Necati Aslim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

Earlier this month, the union won a major concession in negotiations. In response to inflation hitting 40-year highs, the government agreed to make union members who are not part of senior staff a one-time payment of £1,500 ($1,880), as reported by the .

But staff at the British Museum are striking because their institution hasn’t agreed to make the recommended payments.

“It’s an outrage that even after the government recognized the need for our members to be given more financial support during the crippling cost-of-living crisis, the British Museum is refusing to pay it,” PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said in a statement. “The British Museum’s rebuff is deeply insulting. Our members have made it loud and clear that failing to commit to agreeing to the payment will be swiftly met with further disruption.”

The museum insisted it has “has not refused” the payment. Because museums and libraries have independent income, they are technically considered “Freedom Bodies” and do not have to follow the government’s pay remit guidance—so the lump payments aren’t mandatory.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen speaks at the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union picket outside British Museum in London during a strike in February 2023. Photo by Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen speaks at the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union picket outside British Museum in London during a strike in February 2023. Photo by Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

“We are saddened that PCS are taking this action as we have an open invite to the three unions we work with, including PCS, to sit down and discuss this year’s pay settlement—including the possibility of a lump sum payment—and are prepared to talk at any time,” a museum spokesperson told the .

In response, PCS shared a written message from the museum’s head of HR, Chris Lazenby, which stated that “BM are not in a position to be able to make the one-off payment of £1,500 as requested.”

PCS has agreed to attend a July 6 meeting with the museum to negotiate pay for the 2023/2024 fiscal year, but will move forward with the strike unless the museum agrees to the £1,500 payments.

“As well as refusing to agree to this payment, the museum continues to pay many of its dedicated front-of-house staff wages that are well below the London Living Wage,” Serwotka added. “Members have told us directly that they are struggling to pay their bills, that they cannot afford medication for chronic health conditions, that they have used or will use food banks, that they are racking up credit card debts.”

Artnet News asked PCS Culture Group if its other staff from its other member museums had received the lump payments, but did not hear back by publishing time.

 

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