Adapting to Labor Conditions

As we will be entering the museum job market soon, I found this article insightful. Over the past several weeks we have been discussing budgets, grants, and funding. Underlying all these issues is staff funding. If anything, this week’s reading from the “Fundraising for Small Museums” describes how critical staff are in any financial endeavors. Why then, when institutions are facing budget cuts and depressed funding, are staff salaries, hours, and benefits  first on the chopping block? One possible answer the Center for the Future of Museums offers is the over-saturation of the job market with job seeking professionals; “The laws of supply and demand in the museum labour market mean that museum sector complaints about low pay tend to fall on deaf ears.” Even in instances when museums workers go on strike, they are usually left with little recourse other than to accept lower wages and diminished hours. The article sites a 2015 strike in the UK when 400 National Gallery Assistants attempted to prevent the National Gallery from outsourcing their jobs to the private global security firm Securitas. Their goals were to secure stable pay conditions and demonstrate their values as employees. Eventually the staffers made concessions and became employees of Securitas. The strike received national news coverage and the National Gallery had to close several of their galleries to the public, tarnishing the institution’s public image and calling into question their trustworthiness.

Subsequently, in the United Kingdom, museum employees have been forced into signing ‘Zero Hours contracts’ which stipulate that staff members are employed without the guarantee of working hours. Some institutions have joined the Living Wage Foundation, but economic pressures have kept the majority of institutions from offering “Livable Wages.” There has also been a growing trend in UK museums to offer contract work for single projects. In response to fixed-term and project contracts, freelance work has been on the uptick.  The article concludes with a cautionary statement “the future for workers looks like one of less collective bargaining power, and less job security.” What I found most galling is the disregard these institutions have for their workers well-being and how that disregard is interpreted by the public. In an effort to save money, staff members become expendable, how can the public trust such an institution? How can we as future museum professionals secure the trust of the public while working in such an environment? I suppose it is not all doom and gloom, as the author reminds us to maintain “greater flexibility and independence” in our careers.

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