As an industrial dispute boils over, could Scotland’s most iconic institution be under threat?

Steele Rudd reports

The National Museum of Scotland is one of the nation’s greatest cultural institutions – in fact, with almost two million visitors a year it’s the UK’s most popular attraction outside of London.

It’s rightfully renowned for a collection that encompasses Scottish archeology to Dolly the sheep, and for a history of civic engagement coupled with some truly stunning architecture.

It would not be resorting to hyperbole to describe the museum as a national treasure.

Given the level of public affection for the Chambers Street institution, it is surprising that there has been scant coverage of the ongoing industrial dispute between its governing body, National Museums Scotland, and its employees, backed by the Public and Commercial Services Union. A long series of industrial actions, including demonstrations outside museum events, finally led to strikes which this week shut the building down. A breakdown in negotiations over contracts is being blamed by both sides.

 [tweet https://twitter.com/PCS_Scotland/status/505304827891843072]

For details of the dispute, click here

The dispute centres around the absence of an unsocial hours allowances in new contracts; workers on such contracts do not receive any additional compensation when working weekends or outside of normal business hours. 

Those employed prior to the introduction of these contracts in 2011 are unaffected and not all new workers are subject to the same conditions. The basis for determining eligibility for unsocial hours allowances in new contracts remains unconfirmed, but it appears that lower pay grades and the business services division are disproportionately affected.

More strikes likely

The PCS suggests that further actions are a possibility if the NMS continues to offer unsatisfactory terms. Meanwhile, the NMS’ official position is that:

“We have met with the PCS and offered constructive dialogue to consider options to resolve the current dispute.  It is therefore extremely disappointing that the PCS have chosen to take further action before participating fully in this dialogue.”

For their part, the NMS has been hit by continuing cuts in funding from the Scottish Government and has had to look to other sources for the final phase of its redevelopment Masterplan. 

The Masterplan project includes the £50m redevelopment of the former Royal Museum, completed in 2011, and £14.1m work which will shut down eight galleries from Monday 1st September until 2016. This impending work will result in a 40% increase in display space in Scotland’s most cherished museum.

EdUncovered continues to investigate the dispute.

Tourists arrive for the Edinburgh Tattoo against a backdrop of striking museum staff.

Tourists arrive for the Edinburgh Tattoo against a backdrop of striking museum staff.

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EU < For ongoing coverage of the dispute

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Cover image copyright M J Richardson