The action is stage one of a co-ordinated campaign by staff against low rates of pay at National Museums Liverpool which have made it the lowest paying national museum in the country, and one of the lowest paying public bodies.
More than 250 conservators, archivists, administrators and other specialist staff have rejected a two-year offer worth 1.8% for 2007 and 1.3% for 2008, compared to the Retail Price Index for June of 4.4%. In a second ballot they voted by 74% to take strike action.
On Wednesday 25 July pickets mounted by members of the Prospect and Public and Commercial Services unions will be outside all NML’s six sites from 9.00am. Their action is bound to reduce facilities for the public, which local union representatives have described as "deeply regrettable but unavoidable."
On behalf of more than 170 specialist staff at NML, Prospect negotiator Tony Hammond said: "We have been in discussion with the museum all year over how to avoid this situation but management has refused to give an inch.
"It has even refused to ask the Treasury for extra funds to pay its staff a living wage and openly boasts that it is a low pay employer.
"Next year Liverpool will be European Capital of Culture and the National Museum will have a key role promoting the city’s image to millions of visitors. To ask its staff to accept a real terms pay cut for two years running while exploiting their talents to the rest of the world is frankly an insult and unworthy of this great city."
Robert Wareing, MP for Liverpool West Derby, says he is appalled at the museum’s actions and on 19 July put down an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons. It calls on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to arrange an urgent meeting between the unions and management and to "value the staff for the valuable public service they offer." Nine MPs have already signed the EDM and Wareing will meet with museum staff at the Commons on the day of the strike.
NML’s business case to the Treasury for pay 2007 acknowledged that NML had been following a policy of "taking deliberate action to set pay rates at the lower end of the market" and to "actively seek real savings from our staff cost line to balance our accounts." It added: "There is clear evidence that NML has some of the lowest or close to the lowest starting salaries in relation to our competitors."
Last year the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee said of NML: "While the staff show enormous enthusiasm and commitment, salaries are low, and in the absence of long-term job security and career development opportunities there must be a risk that their skills will ultimately be lost to the heritage sector."
The six museum sites that will be picketed on 25 July are: The Walker Art Gallery, World Museum Liverpool, National Conservation Centre, Merseyside Maritime Museum, Sudley House, The Lady Lever Art Gallery (Wirral).
Union reps have written to all the city’s MPs and the council asking for their support. A second strike will be held on 22 August.