Strikers at the National Gallery have voted to bring forward their planned all-out strike after bosses announced their privatisation plans could go through as early as next Monday.
Gallery bosses announced last Friday that they were preparing to sign a contract with private security firm Securitas.
National Gallery workers have been striking against plans to privatise 400 out of 600 jobs since January.
And last month they voted overwhelmingly for an all-out strike, set to begin on Tuesday of next week.
The PCS union members are also fighting for the reinstatement of sacked union rep Candy Udwin.
Candy was suspended ahead of the strikers’ first walkout in January, and was sacked in May.
Bosses were expected to impliment their privatisation plan towards the end of this month or the beginning of September.
But they now want to bring the deal forward after announcing the contract on Friday.
They want privatisation in the bag before the workers’ all-out strike begins—and before incoming director Gabriele Finaldi takes up his post.
If signed on Monday, the deal would go through on the same day that Candy’s appeal hearing against her sacking resumes.
The hearing began on 22 July, but was adjourned after the chair agreed that the gallery had not given the union proper notice.
Outgoing gallery director Nicholas Penny told gallery workers about the privatisation plan in two staff meetings on Friday without notifying the PCS.
The PCS has been trying to secure negotiations with Finaldi and gallery bosses through government conciliation service Acas for more than a week.
Penny made the announcement the day after his leaving party, which was held inside the gallery last Thursday evening.
He had previously said in an interview that he didn’t agree with outsourcing staff. But that didn’t stop him from pushing ahead with the plans anyway.
Strikers and their supporters held their own alternative “leaving party” outside the gallery entrance as the guests went in.
Speaking outside the party, Candy said, “We’re very pleased the director has said that he thinks privatisation is a bad thing, because that’s what we’ve been saying for the past year.
“It’s just a little strange that he’s waited a year to say that.”
The National Gallery said that privatisation would not lead to redundancies and terms and conditions would remain the same. But outsourcing staff is always a step towards driving down terms and conditions.
Workers could be asked to work later hours for less to cover ticketed events or private functions.
The gallery also said that Securitas has “a proven track record” in “visitor engagement roles within the arts and culture sector”.
But the only museum or gallery Securitas has a contract with in Britain is the Royal Armoury in Leeds —where it only provides security.
Many gallery staff were surprised that the contract had not been given to rival security firm CIS, which has already been providing security in the gallery’s Sainsbury Wing.
Some staff were speculating whether the strength of their strike had caused CIS to pull out.
The strikers have had huge support. But with the deal imminent they are in urgent need of solidarity.
And they are determined to fight on over terms and conditions even if the deal goes through.
The workers want trade unionists and other campaigns to “adopt a day” during their all-out strike to visit picket lines or show solidarity in other ways. All campaigners need to do everything they can now to help the strikers fight on.
Donate to the strike fund. Sort code 08 60 01, account no 20169002. Cheques to PCS Culture Media and Sport Association, c/o PCS North West Region, Jack Jones House, 1 Islington, Liverpool L3 8EG
Go to ngnotforsale.wordpress.com
Visit the picket lines with delegations, donations and banners. 9AM every day from Tuesday 11 August. National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, central London, WC2N 5DN