Anger at privatisation of National Gallery workforce

Could strike action hit the UK’s pre-eminent art institution?

London’s National Gallery is home to one of the most exhilarating collections of Western art in the world. In 2013, more than 6 million visitors passed through the doors, making it the fourth most visited attraction on the planet.  

It is a significant cultural establishment.

But in April this year, the gallery’s staff are set to be unwillingly taken over by a private company.  The consequences of which could mean lower wages, worse conditions and less job-security, the Guardian reports.

This is a move which no other gallery in the UK has resorted to.

The privatisation programme would affect 400 of the gallery’s 600 employees, many of whom have worked for the National Gallery for decades and have detailed knowledge of the collection and the gallery’s history.

The union which represents the gallery’s workers, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), said that National Gallery managers have walked away from talks to avoid privatisation.

The news follows the announcement of the departure of the National Gallery’s director Nicholas Penny. In addition, ten senior managers at the gallery have left, been made redundant or dismissed in the last two years, according to the PCS.

A petition against privitising the workforce has been launched, and the union is now holding a ballot on whether to launch a campaign of industrial action. The ballot closes on Friday.

A yes vote could lead to several days of consecutive strike action over February. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This reckless sell-off plan risks damaging the worldwide reputation of what is one of the UK’s greatest cultural assets, and we are determined to stop it.”

Despite the record visitor numbers, the gallery has had a 15% cut in its baseline grant, which is allocated by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It looks like the workers are taking the brunt of the government’s cuts.

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