Row over museum strikes rumbles on

Striking museum staff have described an offer to end strikes as “derisory” as the organisation’s head claims it was made in good faith.

More than 100 staff from National Museums Liverpool (NML) sites are in the midst of an eight-week walkout over a dispute regarding a cost-of-living payment. Pickets have been a regular fixture outside the World Museum and Museum of Liverpool following a ballot of PCS Union members.

As the issue rumbles on, workers have rejected a fresh offer from NML out of hand. Laura Pye, the organisation’s director, told the LDRS the culture body cannot afford to meet the demands being put forward.

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. Ms Pye said museum workers were not eligible as they were not civil servants.

An offer of a one-off payment of £250, to be issued on a pro-rata basis, an additional two days’ leave, and a commitment to providing free tea and coffee to be made available in all staff rooms, was rejected earlier this month.

Cas Burgess, NML branch secretary, said, “It is disappointing that this derisory offer came so far into the dispute, after over eight months of negotiations. We still remain committed to resolving this dispute through meaningful conversation.

“Our members are struggling to pay their bills, many of them are increasingly in debt, and this payment would alleviate so much of the financial strain they are under due to low wages and wage stagnation across the culture sector. £1,500 might not be much to a museum boss on thousands every month but it would be transformative to our members.”

Matt Exley, branch officer, added, “We have received overwhelming support from workers across the city and beyond, from MPs, from other trade unions. It is clear that in a city like Liverpool people are on the side of culture workers.

“The city is world famous for its vibrant culture scene. It is only right that the people who drive that scene are able to thrive, not just to survive on poverty wages.”

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.

Ms Pye said, “We’ve worked with our unions over the years to improve pay and conditions. The PCS is holding the position that they are entitled to this payment.

“We agreed back our pay settlement in April before the Cabinet Office made this announcement but we’re not covered by the pay remit. The reality is, by not being civil servants, the staff have actually had higher pay increases than if they were.”

The director, who has been at the head of NML since 2018, said awarding the payment would place the museums under further financial strain. She added, “To give all the staff £1,500 would be a £750,000 payment, which we simply don’t have.

“I know the PCS don’t agree and say we have reserves but they are limited, we’re forecast losses over the next few years. We’ve never promised the money, we’ve never lied about it.

“We’re in a difficult position because we don’t have the money but we don’t want our colleagues out on strike.”

Responding to the claims her offer to the union was derisory, Ms Pye said, “It’s disappointing that is the case and it’s based on affordability. We expected a counter offer but we haven’t, there’s nothing on the table from their side.

“We’ve tried to make a step in good faith, expecting an ongoing conversation. We really want to end this dispute to get our museums open.”

The union has also launched a petition amid the loss of jobs at Hinduja Global Soluitions on Tithebarn Street. A quarter of roles from the disclosure and barring service team will be cut and those kept on will relocate to Preston.

Fran Heathcote, PCS general secretary, said, “Expecting our members to transfer to Preston is unfeasible, impractical and expensive as the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite. Many have said they will be left with no choice but to reluctantly take redundancy and hope to get a job closer to home.

“It is disgraceful for HGS to prioritise cutting costs over the wellbeing and employment of its staff.”

Image: The NML Picket line. Credit: PCS Union

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