Winter of discontent looms as museum strike dates announced
Geraldine Kendall Adams, 10.10.2019
Walkouts planned at SMG, Bradford museums and MoL
A series of strikes will be taking place at museums across England in the coming months over low pay and funding cuts.
Workers at Bradford City Council’s museums and libraries service are planning 14 days of strike action this autumn, starting with a two-day walkout on 21-22 October. Further strikes are scheduled next month, and a week-long walkout is planned the run-up to Christmas.
Members of the union Unite are protesting against the council’s plans to cut its museums and libraries budget by 65%, which they warn will make the service unsustainable, as well as resulting in redundancies, pay cuts and the erosion of employment conditions for staff.
Relations between union members and the council appear to have deteriorated, with the union saying the council has not engaged in meaningful consultation with them over the plans. Further tensions have arisen in recent weeks over fears that the council may employ casual workers to cover striking employees.
Unite's convenor for Bradford Council, Patrick Kelly, told Museums Journal: “Unite expects all its members to take part in industrial action and expects colleagues not to cross a picket line. Unite have been informed that the council are contacting casual workers to provide cover for striking members. A Labour council actively engaging non-employees to break a legitimate industrial dispute is unacceptable.”
A spokesman for Bradford Council said these rumours were not true. He said: "The council will not bring in new temporary resources to cover the strike. We’re well aware of the legislation and requirements surrounding strike action.
“As ever, the door remains open for Unite to talk with us.”
Kelly also said the council had not been transparent about the costings of its plans. “It is Unite’s view that the proposals tabled for museums and libraries are not sustainable,” he said, adding that the union had serious concerns over the future of three of the service’s four museums, which comprise Bradford Industrial Museum, Cartwright Hall, Cliffe Castle and Bolling Hall.
Meanwhile, Science Museum Group (SMG) workers are planning a further day of strike action on 23 October, after staging their first walkout in August this year.
The industrial action was prompted by a below-inflation 1.5% pay increase offered to most staff this year, as well as the SMG’s failure to offer its lowest paid staff the Real Living Wage.
Since the first strike there has been some movement by the institution’s management on the issue. SMG managing director Jonathan Newby said: “Following discussions with Prospect union, we have communicated two important commitments to all of our colleagues. The first was to reach the Real Living Wage/London Living Wage from 1 April 2020, which will involve a further significant pay rise on top of last year’s increase of 6.9% for colleagues on the lowest salaries.
“We also offered to begin meaningful discussions about next year’s wider pay settlement with Prospect from November and confirmed that pay will be a priority in next year’s budgeting decisions.”
But in a statement, Prospect said this offer fell short of its demands because the SMG had “failed to make a long-term commitment to cost-of-living pay, and offered no improvement on this year’s pay”.
The union added: “Workers earning below the Real Living Wage will continue to do so until the conclusion of the next pay round – this is not sustainable.”
Plans for a half-day strike have also been announced by workers at the Museum of London, after they voted to reject a 1.5% below-inflation pay rise. The walkout is due to take place on 24 October.