‘Pay London Living Wage’: Labour members urge Greenwich Council to intervene in museums dispute

National Maritime Museum (photo Verity Cridland)
Workers at the National Maritime Museum, Cutty Sark and other attractions will strike on Saturday (photo: Verity Cridland via CC BY-2.0)

Rank and file Labour members are urging Greenwich Council’s leadership to take a stand in a dispute over pay and conditions at some of Greenwich’s leading tourist attractions.

Members of the Prospect union at Royal Museums Greenwich are to stage a second strike on Saturday after management imposed changes to their pay and conditions which they say mean they are now being paid less to work longer.

The branch party in Greenwich West ward – which covers the National Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory, Cutty Sark and Queen’s House – has passed a motion urging the Labour-run council to support the striking workers and make it clear to bosses that their stance is “out of line” with other museums.

Prospect members have already walked out once, on New Year’s Day, in protest about the changes, which the union says has meant breaks becoming shorter and unpaid, while the range of hours that shifts can fall within have become wider.

The union adds that “staff will be working an extra 3 weeks a year without proper compensation”.

So far Greenwich Council has been silent on the issue, but the Greenwich West party members want them to take a stronger stance, and to demand the museums pay staff the £10.20/hour London Living Wage.

Their motion, which is being passed around other branch parties, “deplores the fact that some employees at Royal Museums Greenwich are still not being paid the London Living Wage and that, consequently, the lowest paid employees claim they can only afford one meal a day”.

The motion:

  • “Expresses solidarity with those trade union members who have taken industrial action in protest against changes to their hours, meaning longer shifts and shorter breaks for the same wage.”
  • “Calls on Greenwich Council to make clear to the RMG management that their refusal to pay the London Living Wage is out of line with all other major London museums and risks damaging the image of Greenwich as a tourist attraction.”
  • “Urges the Council to step up its efforts to promote the adoption of the London Living Wage for all workers in Greenwich.”

The dispute has the potential to become embarrassing for the council. Greenwich has made much of being a Living Wage council, but deputy leader Danny Thorpe and culture cabinet member Denise Scott-McDonald sit alongside RMG director Kevin Fewster on the board of Visit Greenwich, which co-ordinates the borough’s tourism strategy.

Indeed, the council’s assistance in funding the refurbishment of the Cutty Sark – which was later taken over by Royal Museums Greenwich – has been credited with helping it land its cherished royal borough status.

A Greenwich Council spokesperson was unable to comment on the issue as it was a “political matter”.

Prospect negotiations officer Caroline Hemmington said: “This strike is not about stopping people from going to the museum, but to highlight how detrimental these changes have been on the staff affected.

“Members have decided to take a second day of strike action to demonstrate to RMG management how significantly these changes are felt on a day to day basis.

“Prospect is working towards finding a resolution for our members and the best way to do this is by continuing to engage in constructive discussions with management.”

5.10pm update: Royal Museums Greenwich said most of its front of house staff had agreed to the new terms but new terms were imposed after no agreement was reached after over a year of talks with the union.

Director Kevin Fewster added: “There appears to be a difference in understanding regarding the reduction of three breaks to two that have not been resolved with the union.

“The museum as yet cannot afford to meet the London Living Wage but hourly rates are now in advance of the National Living Wage following the restructure.

“It is not the case that hourly rates have fallen as annual salaries were protected. They have in fact increased which means that any overtime worked is paid at the higher rates. We continue our discussions with the union and we expect to be open for business as usual on Saturday.”

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