British Museum workers announce strike during school holidays

Action could force early closure of exhibition on ancient Egypt's hieroglyphs

Staff in the British Museum's security and visitor services teams will walk out in February. Reuters
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Staff at the British Museum announced a week-long strike on Saturday that could force its closure during February half-term holidays.

More than 100 workers from the museum's security and visitor services teams will strike for seven days from February 13, a civil service union announced.

It said its members were walking out in a dispute over pay, pensions, redundancy terms and job security. The museum is an arm's-length body of the British government.

The strike could bring an early end to a landmark ancient Egypt exhibition due to run until February 19. It prominently features the Rosetta Stone amid a running campaign to return it to Egypt.

A British Museum spokesman told The National the strike was part of a wider public sector pay dispute that was outside the museum's control.

"We have a carefully rehearsed operational plan in place to respond to any staff shortages on strike days. That plan prioritises a safe and secure opening of the museum on a phased basis," he said.

The strike coincides with the last week of an exhibition on the Rosetta Stone and ancient Egypt. EPA

The Public and Commercial Services Union, which said it was likely the museum would close, also announced new strikes at Britain's vehicle licensing agency and at dozens of criminal courts.

More than 100,000 civil servants and teachers are expected to strike on Wednesday, seeking a hefty pay rise at a time of high inflation — a day of action that could also affect museums. Rail strikes are also expected next week.

“We warned ministers that our action would spread if they ignored our demands, and we’re good to our word,” said PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, who said no new money had been brought to the negotiating table.

“If the government was serious about resolving the dispute, ministers could resolve it tomorrow. Instead, they’re shamefully hiding their heads in the sand, hoping we’ll go away. We won’t.”

The British Museum, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and national museums in Scotland are among those with PCS workers who could walk out on Wednesday, the Museums Association said.

Cleaners at the British Museum went on strike in 2012. The PCS last year said it had raised concerns over poor air quality and working conditions during a heatwave.

Staff at the National Coal Mining Museum claimed victory in November after a five-day strike ended with a 10.5 per cent pay offer.

Updated: January 28, 2023, 1:45 PM