Cleaners and maintenance staff at one of the country's most prestigious museums will strike today (Monday 29 October) against plans to privatise their work, the Public and Commercial Services union and Unite announce.
Low-paid workers who keep the British Museum clean and safe voted overwhelmingly for industrial action amid fears their pay and conditions could be seriously cut if maintenance work is contracted out as planned.
The unions, which together represent around 50 of the museum's cleaning and facilities management staff, believe senior managers are close to confirming the outsourcing will go ahead, with the new contract starting from April next year.
Monday's strike will be between 7am and 10am, with plans for more action the following Monday (5 November) to coincide with a museum members' event expected to attract 3,000 guests.
The museum, which celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2003, is one of the most popular cultural attractions in the country with six million visitors a year.
The strike comes just days after the Office for National Statistics reported that people's living standards had fallen sharply since 2008. Food and energy costs are rising well above the rate of inflation and train companies recently announced another steep increase in fares.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "With the cost of living soaring the last thing these low-paid workers need is a private company taking over and cutting their wages and working conditions to boost profits and line shareholders' pockets.
"Cleaners and other museum staff work incredibly hard to maintain this prestigious and popular cultural attraction and we know this is appreciated by the millions of visitors the museum attracts every year. Introducing the profit motive is not only unnecessary, it risks undermining these important services to the public."
Unite regional officer Carolyn Simpson said: "Unite will not stand idly by whilst our members and this vital museum service is sold-off to an external provider.
"Without our members carrying out the cleaning and servicing of the buildings and exhibits, the British Museum's standing as a world class heritage site is in danger of becoming second class. We will not allow these jobs be outsourced without a fight."
- For information contact PCS' communications office on 020 7801 2820 or Unite communications officer Ashraf Choudhury on 07980 224761