WORKERS at the National Gallery struck for five days from yesterday over plans to hand all visitor services to a private company, the Public and Commercial Services union said.
The well-supported stoppage is putting the spotlight on a sell-off that threatens the reputation of the country’s second most visited major attraction.
In a ‘disproportionate act of unfathomable bad faith’ the gallery yesterday suspended one of the union’s senior reps who is a member of the negotiating team that was in talks at Acas last Friday.
The rep is accused of breaching commercial confidentiality by sharing a document with her full-time union official – which included information about the costs of using a private company – and asking him to take up the matter with gallery management.
The union, which remains committed to talks at Acas, believes its reps have a legitimate right to ask officials to raise these questions on what is a matter of strong public interest.
Gallery bosses announced plans last year to privatise almost all staff, including those who look after the paintings and help the gallery’s six million annual visitors.
They have also reneged on a promise to introduce the London living wage, meaning the institution is the only major museum or gallery in the capital that does not pay it.
Private security firm CIS has taken over the whole of the Sainsbury wing – which houses masterpieces by Raphael, Botticelli and Fra Angelico – for the rest of this year without any competitive tender or consultation.
The company was brought in to cover the gallery’s Rembrandt exhibition last autumn. Its promotional brochure advertises its services as guarding empty buildings, door security and CCTV monitoring.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘This dispute and the sell-off plan are putting the global reputation of the National Gallery at risk.
‘Suspending one of our senior reps on the eve of our strike is a disproportionate act of unfathomable bad faith and not only should she be reinstated immediately, the gallery must commit itself to full and proper negotiations.’