Museum boss’ regret at staff walkouts

The boss of Liverpool’s major museums said strike action taken by hundreds of workers is “deeply regrettable” and wants to get round the table with union chiefs to resolve the dispute.

Last weekend, more than 100 staff from National Museums Liverpool (NML) sites began an eight-week walkout over a dispute regarding a cost-of-living payment. Pickets were set up outside the World Museum and Museum of Liverpool on Saturday and Sunday following a ballot of PCS Union members.

Laura Pye, director of National Museums Liverpool, has responded to the industrial action, stating the organisation did not agree with some of the strikes taken and “greatly value” its “loyal staff”.

Almost 200 members of the PCS Union were balloted as to whether to leave their posts over, with 94% backing a course of action. The union launched a campaign last year to secure a one-off payment of £1,500 for staff within the civil service pay remit to support them financially amid the cost of living crisis.

It said this has yet to be paid to staff at NML.

National Museums Liverpool was established formally in 1986 to manage the various locations throughout the city that collate priceless artefacts. These include the Museum of Liverpool, the Maritime Museum, International Slavery Museum, and Lady Lever Art Gallery.

The Walker Art Gallery, Sudley House, and World Museum are also managed by NML. Museum boss Ms Pye said it was a matter of regret the walkout could not have been prevented but wanted to be in “open discussions” to find a solution to the dispute.

Writing on the NML website, she said, “National Museums Liverpool is a not-for-profit organisation which has been impacted in the same ways as many other arts organisations over the last four years.

“We’re not a private corporation producing a financial return for stakeholders, and while we do receive a substantial grant from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), as an arms-length body organisation, we’re not fully funded by them. 

“We work hard to raise additional funds to support all our brilliant programmes of activity through targeted fundraising and, whilst we remain free to access, via much-valued support of visitors through our cafes, shops and paid-for experiences. All of which will be regrettably impacted significantly by this strike action.”

Ms Pye, who has been at the head of NML since 2018, said the organisation understood “the importance of fair remuneration for the hard work and loyalty” staff give. She added, “Before the pandemic, we committed to a comprehensive pay and conditions review, which considers how we can move to a fair and equal system of pay, holidays, flexible working and pensions – the things that colleagues had said were important to them through our annual engagement survey.”

The director said staff salaries had increased by an average of 14% over the last four years while being impacted by “some of the highest inflation we have seen in years, hugely increased energy bills, and our visitor figures are still 10% lower than pre-pandemic levels. In this same period, we’ve seen our grant from DCMS increase by 4%.”

Ms Pye added, “We’ve never planned a one off non-consolidated payment, and all the funding we had available was put into consolidated rises, prioritising our lowest paid colleagues. Ultimately, making a one-off payment of £1,500 on top of what we’ve implemented and committed, is simply unaffordable to us as an organisation, and would threaten the long-term sustainability of your museums and galleries.”

The museum boss said the organisation remains optimistic things may change during the “difficult dilemma” amid “no straightforward way ahead.” She said the board remained fully committed to an “open and honest dialogue to end strike action if possible, and as soon as possible.”

The Museum of Liverpool was able to open with a skeleton staff last weekend and will remain closed until Thursday.

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