Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When your pay slip is no oil painting


SIGHTSEERS and workers taking their lunch break in London's Trafalgar Square today could be in for an extra sight event. Workers from the National Gallery are planning to walk out and hold a meeting over their campaign for a living wage.

If, like me, you ever fancied a job amid all those beautiful paintings, forget it. Unless you have another source of income. The workers in this prestigious national asset, helping look after the treasures and the tourists, include warders, retail and security staff. They are expected to look smart for the West End, and they are organised by the PCS civil service union, but like most civil servants, they are no privileged Sir Humphreys.

The Gallery has made its pay offer to staff. It would leave warders earning on average less than £15, 000 a year. Workers at the National Gallery, in the heart of the capital, looking after some of the most valuable paintings, are not even getting the London Living Wage (a princely £7.60 an hour). As the PCS leaflet says, this means they would not be able to keep up with the rising cost of living, whether fuel costs at home or fares to work.

At present some staff are having to claim benefits and tax credits to help them afford to stay in the job.
More will get into debt, or have to take second jobs, difficult if they are already depending on overtime and weekend work to earn a living wage.

Although I've never worked in a gallery or museum, I have worked long shifts on low pay in uniform, looking after prestiguous office blocks and government buildings. So I am saluting the staff at the National Gallery who are taking action for all low paid service workers who struggle to make a living in one of the world's richest cities, and for all those public service workers who this year are facing attacks on jobs and pay from which government is returned.

I'm told if you are in Trafalgar Square today from around 12.30 you can greet the workers and hear more about their case. If not, you can still e-mail the Gallery director Dr.Nicholas Penny to tell him what you think.

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