More strikes at the National Gallery? (ctd.)

January 26 2015

Image of More strikes at the National Gallery? (ctd.)

Picture: Museums Journal

Further to my recent post on the security guards at the National Gallery, comes news (via the Museums Journal) that staff have voted in favour of strike action:

National Gallery staff have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action over the possible transfer of employment contracts to a private firm.

About half the gallery’s 600 staff were eligible to take part in the ballot by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), with a 62% turnout of members voting 94% in favour.

“It’s a pretty clear message they are sending to managers – they’re saying they want to work for the National Gallery and not a private security firm,” said PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka.

Last week, Polly Toynbee said in The Guardian that the National Gallery was the only 'national museum in London not to pay the living wage'. She did not specify whether this was the 'London living wage' of £9.15 an hour, or the national 'living wage' of £7.85 an hour. The 'minimum wage' is £6.15 an hour.

But in their response to the strike vote, the National Gallery tells us that they will now be paying staff at least the London living wage from 1st April this year. Moreover, staff working for CIS, the dreaded private contractor who successfully kept watch over the recent blockbuster (ie, crowded) 'Late Rembrandt', were paying staff £10 an hour. Any staff transfered from the National Gallery to a future contractor must, by law, enjoy the same pay and conditions that they currently enjoy. 

So I'm not sure I entirely understand the PCS union's beef with the proposals. If the National Gallery want to manage their workforce more effectively - and to remove the constant threat of strike action by a publicity hungry union - then personally I cannot see any great problems with that.

According to the Museums Journal) one of the PCS' claims against CIS is that:

“CIS staff have been told it is not their job to answer questions about the paintings,” he claimed.

Well, I'd have thought security staff are their to keep watch over the paintings, not give lectures about them. 

Update - a reader writes:

I noticed your comment that the security [guards] at the National Gallery are there to keep watch over the paintings, not lecture on them.  But can you imagine how dull that must be and that some of them might actually want to engage with both the public and the paintings.  It would be nice to ask a guard where a particular picture is and for the guard to know what you are talking about.

I suppose it would be somewhat heartless to point out that if engaging with the public and paintings is what you want to do in life, then applying to be a security guard is not the best way to go about it. That said, I'm sure gallery attendants should be able to, and can, point people in the general direction of, say, the Van Dyck room, or Van Gogh's Sunflowers. That's quite different though to answering questions about the paintings themselves.

Update II - another reader writes:

Engaging a security guard in a discussion regarding art could provide an excellent diversion by an accomplice of an evil doer.  Perhaps one taking a flash photo.

Guards should be paid properly and government grants should reflect that priority.

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