Sunday, January 18, 2015

Heritage and Security

SO OFTEN THE BACKDROP for protests, like last September's march for the NHS, the National Gallery, one of Britain's biggest tourist attractions, is the centre of a struggle for jobs and a living wage.   

MORE news for flag-waving patriots and those proud of the national heritage. Oh,and concerned - aren't we all? - for our security.

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which is struggling to continue representing civil servants  and workers in firms doing government work, reports that hundreds of Metropolitan Police civilian staff face being handed to a private company that is sending civil service work overseas.

The union's ability to function is being attacked by government ending the check-off  system for union dues and taking away union representatives' facility time.  Weakening the union is one way of setting civil servants competing to keep their jobs by taking it out on vulnerable members of the public they deal with, rather than trying to cushion the coalition's vicious blows.  It also leaves whistleblowers exposed. 

In the latest privatisation move, around 500 support workers in human resources and finance could become part of an existing contract run by a new company Shared Services Connected Ltd.  The PCS says this decision by London's deputy mayor for policing Stephen Greenhalgh means a contract would either be given to SSCL as early as June or be put out for a full competitive tender.

"Majority owned by French multinational Sopra Steria, SSCL was set up in 2013 to take over similar functions in government departments and has already confirmed some civil service work is now done in India".

Funnily enough, with all the concern which right-wing politicians and media have been showing about our jobs supposedly being taken by immigrants, I've yet to hear any worries expressed about the jobs that are exported to countries with lower wages and conditions, fewer workers' rights and favourable tax arrangements.

Security does not seem a problem either,  with all our files winging their way to exotic parts. Still,with David Cameron so insistent on the state's need to eavesdrop and checkour e-mails, even if the state contracts the work out, maybe those poor sods in Asian call centres who keep ringing to ask me about my consumer lifestyle will be able to get all the information without calling. I assume it is worth something to somebody.

The deal to take away work from the Met's civilian staff is part of a framework agreement, which the PCS says allows SSCL to take over Human Resources and finance services in any part of the public sector.  The final decision is due to be made in April, but the union says the business case is flawed and it wants the work kept in-house.

All of the Met's "non front line services" are being reviewed to see if they could be privatised, including civilian staff who work side by side with officers in criminal justice.

Turning to the nation's  cultural heritage, expect protesters outside the National Gallery on Monday evening, over the use of a private security firm. The row started last Summer when the PCS union heard that the National Gallery's head of security - formerly with that reputable company G4S- had  appointed a private security firm with no prior consultation to guard artworks at an exhibition, Rembrandt: The Late Works.

CIS Security is being paid approximately £500,000 for the task and advertised three-month contracts at £10 per hour to cover the exhibition, running from October 15 to January 18, 2015. According to the advert, guards were expected to answer queries and provide visitors with advice, guidance and information.

There were soon reports that inexperienced and probably unmotivated casual security guards were touching paintings and talking on mobiles when they should be assisting visitors.  But now it appears  CIS is being given more work, moving into the gallery's Sainsbury wing, without having to tender, and without any consultation with the union.

The union said last year it was concerned about the lack of consultation before CIS Security’s appointment. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka accused the gallery of “using public money to usher in privatisation through the back door”.

Serwotka added: "Private security companies, driven by the need to make profits, have absolutely no place looking after world-famous works of art, and these plans should be scrapped.”

The appointment of CIS Security came after the gallery's announcement that around 400 of its 600 posts would be outsourced later this year, including all visitor, security and ticketing services.

It seems the Gallery and their favoured contractors are intent on lowering pay and conditions - even taking away seats from attendants - along with job security.  For this they are prepared to take a risk with standards.  A report in the Daily Mail  -not normally a friend of trade unions - said:

"The National Gallery’s ‘blockbuster’ new Rembrandt exhibition has been hailed a triumph by the critics, but visitors might be advised to keep a close eye on the masterpieces.

Some experienced security guards were replaced earlier this year by agency staff and sources claim the change is proving a disaster.

‘Five of them didn’t bother to turn up for training, while another has been sacked over a foul prank in a toilet,’ claims an insider.

‘When others were given a tour of the gallery, some showed little interest, texting away on their phones.

‘They have been spotted touching paintings and even caught on camera in the Rembrandt exhibition stroking works loaned to the gallery. They have apparently received warnings to stop, but this is really shocking.’

The gallery declines to discuss the claims. ‘We would never comment on matters relating to individual staff members as these are confidential between those involved and the National Gallery,’ a spokeswoman says.

However, she adds: ‘Safety and security are of paramount concern. CIS Security employees are vetted to the same level as existing staff; they will also undertake similar levels of training and assume identical responsibilities.’"

The PCS reported last week :

We are balloting our members at the National Gallery for strikes as part of a campaign against privatisation.
The vote that begins today among hundreds of workers at the world renowned attraction in central London could lead to extended days of industrial action.

We suspended planned strikes over the Christmas break after the gallery used the UK's anti-union laws to challenge them.
We are opposed to plans to privatise almost all staff, including those who look after the paintings and help the gallery's six million annual visitors with enquiries.

Our online petition against the proposal has attracted almost 40,000 signatures.

The National Gallery is the second most popular visitor attraction in the country and we believe the sell-off plan risks damaging its worldwide reputation. Private security company CIS was brought in last autumn to cover the gallery's Rembrandt exhibition.

Now the firm has been handed work in the Sainsbury wing, without any tender or consultation.
Gallery bosses have also reneged on a promise to introduce the London living wage, meaning the institution is the only major museum or gallery in the capital that does not pay it.

There will be a day of action against the privatisation plan on Monday 19 January, including a protest at 6pm outside the gallery in Trafalgar Square.

Sign the online petition

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