Attempts by the management of the Dulwich Picture Gallery to water down the visitor experience by axing 19 of the 36 gallery assistants have been brushed away.
Unite, the country’s largest union, said that attempts to get rid of the knowledgeable assistants at the world's first purpose-built public art gallery and replacing them with apprentices on training rates would have much reduced the enjoyment of the estimated 140,000 visitors to the South London venue.
The gallery assistants had sketched out a week of strike action from last Friday (13 March) before a deal was framed between the management and Unite which meant that the action was called off and the redundancies withdrawn.
Unite said that the management was ‘no oil painting’ when it proposed after Christmas that 19 of the 36 gallery assistants were to be sacked and many of the jobs handed over to lower paid external recruits on training rates. The gallery assistants would have been put in a pool of casual labour on zero hours’ contracts.
Unite regional officer Peter Storey said: “The proposed sackings were not genuine redundancies, would have been illegal, damaged the future of the gallery and visitor experience wishing to view the 600 works including masterpieces by Canaletto, Gainsborough, Rembrandt and Rubens.
“The gallery assistants proposed to keep the present staff in an improved structure, still reducing costs, but deleting zero hours’ contracts and offering a better operational rota on permanent contracts.
“The staff counter proposal means a better experience for the gallery visitors. Gallery assistants bring the visitor experience to life with their knowledge and love for the pictures, as many of them are artists in their own right. Compulsory redundancies have been averted, with just four voluntary redundancies.”
Peter Storey thanked the local community, including Dulwich and West Norwood MP Tessa Jowell, who had rallied around to draw attention to adverse effects of the proposed cuts.
He added: “Unite members should be congratulated on their campaign. It illustrates the power of a united workforce against ill-considered, unnecessary and damaging cuts - it was a masterpiece of solidarity.
“Our next step is to gain recognition for the whole gallery with its 100-strong workforce and to protect other departments from threatened cuts.”
The gallery was founded in 1811 when Sir Francis Bourgeois bequeathed his collection of old masters ‘for the inspection of the public’.
Notes to editors:
For more information please contact or contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble in the Unite press office on 020 3371 2061 or 07768 693940.
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.