Staff at the National Gallery are on their second day of strikes over complaints of low pay. Yesterday saw them campaigning for several hours outside the art gallery in Trafalgar Square. The strike meant that all but five of the 66 exhibition rooms were closed. One can only imagine the touristy turmoil.
The lowest paid stewards earn £6.45 per hour, which means they often need to supplement their income with a second job. The gallery’s union voted against an offer of a pay-rise of between 2.52% and 3.79% just before Christmas.
Many of these stewards are experts in their fields. Furthermore, they are expected to protect the gallery’s exhibitions in the face of anti-social behaviour, emergencies and hundreds of men in identical bowler hats. Much of the dispute is fuelled by the large spending elsewhere in the institution, most notably on expensive exhibitions and managers’ pay.
Lizzie Woods, an organiser at the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), said: "It's an absolute scandal that the National Gallery spent £50m on one painting by Titian last year when our members are having to take second jobs to reach a decent living wage." Woods also referred to the fact that managerial pay “[receives] an unfair proportion" of the money that’s available for salaries.
The National Gallery’s most important exhibition at the moment is a series of works by the passionate Anglophile, Paul Delaroche. Of this series, the most significant is a shrapnel-torn painting recovered from the Duke of Sutherland’s outhouse and lovingly restored by gallery staff. The exhibit’s availability may well be affected by the strikes today.
By Lucy Langdon. Image by catya_maria007 in the Londonist Flickr pool.