The British Museum’s unionized visitor services and security departments announced yesterday their intention to strike from February 13–19, according to the Public and Commercial Service (PCS) Culture Group. PCS, which represents workers employed by the government and public entities, such as the National Museum of Liverpool and the Wallace Collection, will also lead a nationwide one-day strike on February 1.
100,000 members of PCS are campaigning first and foremost for a 10% wage increase, but also for better labor conditions overall.
Gareth Spencer, president of PCS Culture Group, told Hyperallergic that the decision to strike is partly a result of record-high inflation in the UK. The government has the power to increase pay for these workers in the British Museum, which is funded by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS). (DCMS staff also will be walking out.) However, wages for government workers have not kept up with the rising cost of living, creating harsh conditions for members.
“Our members across the UK’s museums, galleries, libraries as well as the civil service culture workers who make policy, allocate funding and deliver projects deserve a better deal on pay, pensions, and redundancy terms,” Spencer said.
In October 2022, British banks reported a higher consumer price index (CPI) than expected, 11.1%, largely due to soaring energy prices. Recently, the Bank of England forecast that CPI will drop from 11.1% to around 5% by the end of 2023, according to Reuters.
Unionized civil workers escalated actions back in November 2022, after collective bargaining efforts brought an offer for a below-inflation-rate pay raise. PCS members were balloted and over 86% of those who mailed back in responses decided to strike. In the UK, unions can call for a strike when responsive members vote to do so; a majority of institutions whose workers are represented by PCS, including the British Museum, met this legal threshold and voted in the affirmative.
Starting on the 13th, targeted action could disrupt public access to the museum during the February half-term, which is analogous to the United States’ mid-winter school break. In a statement, a British Museum spokesperson told Hyperallergic that the strikes are part of a nationwide conflict across the public sector; therefore, the matter is out of the institution’s control.
“We have a carefully rehearsed operational plan in place to respond to any staff shortages on strike days,” the spokesperson said. “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.”
PCS had also raised concerns about staff safety and working conditions at the British Museum almost six and a half months ago. Record heat waves in July created “high indoor temperatures and poor indoor air quality,” forcing the museum to eventually close for two days after pushback from workers.
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