Public access to museums across the UK will be disrupted this month after staff at a wide range of cultural institutions announced they were taking industrial action over pay and labour conditions.
Security and visitor services staff at the British Museum in London, as well as civil servants working for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) are among those to down tools.
They will joined by workers at the Wallace Collection, Historic England, National Museums Scotland and the National Museum of Liverpool among other cultural institutions.
Employees at the British Museum will strike for a week starting on 13 February, which is the half-term holiday for many UK schools.
Civil servants working for the DCMS, the government department in charge of the cultural sector and cultural policy in the UK, will join picket lines on 1 February.
They will be joined up to half a million workers across the UK, as well as 100,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which represents workers in government departments and other public bodies. Overall, as many as 123 government departments could be affected by the proposed strikes.
Workers are primarily striking over pay. The government have offered civil servants a 2% increase on their basic wage. The Consumer Prices Index, a measure of inflation, is currently at 9.2% as of December 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The strikes are being organised by PCS Culture Group, a branch of the PCS Union, which encompasses staff at the British Museum and other cultural institutions.
The PCS Culture Group will hold a picket line outside the British Museum and 100 Parliament Street, close to the DCMS offices, on the morning of 1 February from 8am.
Gareth Spencer, the president of the PCS Culture Group, says: “The past decade of austerity has eroded the pay of museum workers across the UK. Security guards and front of house workers at the British Museum have had enough of low or below inflation pay rises.”
“The government would rather use the museums sector for confected culture war talking points,” Spender says. “We want a fair deal for all our members across the UK’s museums, galleries, libraries and for culture workers in the civil service.”
The PCS ballot for strike action in the UK civil service and related areas closed on 7 November 2022 with 86.2% of those balloted voting for industrial action.
In a statement to members, the PCS Union says: “Only by taking part in well-supported effective action, do we stand a chance of ending the cycle of low pay and getting the type of pay rise we deserve.”
According to John McDonnell, the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and former shadow chancellor, 9% of civil servants are claiming benefits because of low pay, while 8% have resorted to using food banks. McDonnell used the figures during a Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee hearing on 26 January.
A British Museum spokesperson says in a statement: “This industrial action is part of a nationwide dispute across the public sector and focuses on matters that are common across the sector and outside the control of the museum. We have a carefully rehearsed operational plan in place to respond to any staff shortages on the day. That plan prioritises a safe and secure opening of the museum on a phased basis. We will endeavour to keep visitors informed of any disruption on our website with updates throughout the day.”