British Museum Staff Prepares for Week-Long Strike Over Pay Dispute

For the second time in 2023, the British Museum’s staff, specifically those in visitor services and security who are part of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), are preparing for a week-long strike from July 11 to 16. This action is part of a broader conflict between the government and British trade unions representing civil servants over pay, pensions, and jobs that has been ongoing since November. The PCS Culture Group, which includes the British Museum and other cultural organizations like Historic England, the Wallace Collection, National Museums Scotland, and the National Museum of Liverpool, is involved in this dispute.

Earlier in the year, the museum staff had announced a week-long strike in mid-February, causing disruptions to some programs and limiting access to the galleries to only those with pre-booked tickets. The staff had also participated in a nationwide strike organized by the PCS earlier that month, which led to the museum’s closure for a day.

In response to inflation reaching 40-year highs, the government agreed to make a one-time payment of £1,500 ($1,880) to union members who are not part of the senior staff. However, the British Museum staff are striking because their institution has not agreed to make these recommended payments. The museum maintains that it has not refused the payment but, as “Freedom Bodies” with independent income, museums and libraries are not obligated to follow the government’s pay remit guidance, making these lump payments non-mandatory.

The museum expressed disappointment over PCS’s decision to strike and stated that it has an open invitation to the three unions it works with, including PCS, to discuss this year’s pay settlement, including the possibility of a lump sum payment. However, a written message from the museum’s head of HR, Chris Lazenby, indicated that the museum is not in a position to make the one-off payment of £1,500 as requested.

PCS has agreed to attend a meeting with the museum on July 6 to negotiate pay for the 2023/2024 fiscal year, but will proceed with the strike unless the museum agrees to the £1,500 payments. The union also criticized the museum for continuing to pay many of its dedicated front-of-house staff wages that are well below the London Living Wage.

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