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National Gallery reps hit with gagging order over privatisation

by Conrad Landin

UNION reps fighting privatisation at a top London gallery have been hit with a “ludicrous” gagging order, with bosses threatening disciplinary action if workers talks to the press about their dispute.

London’s National Gallery announced last week that around 400 security and visitor services staff would be “outsourced” to a private contractor. 

Staff have raised fears that pay, terms and conditions could be severely compromised.

Civil servants’ union PCS is recognised at the site.

A PCS member at the gallery told the Star: “We’ve been told we can’t talk to the press. It’s been suggested we could face disciplinary action if we do.

“In the past it hasn’t been a problem. But when the privatisation package was announced, the head of human resources told us that we couldn’t speak to the press, and that it was an infringement of the confidentiality agreement.

“I don’t think they’re using the confidentiality agreement in the way it was designed for. On a basic principle of free expression I don’t think it’s right to gag union reps.”

The gallery confirmed that staff had been instructed not to speak to reporters, but denied there had been a change of practice.

Union reps were quoted and named in news articles covering disputes in 2010 and 2012.

A spokeswoman for the gallery said: “National Gallery employees who have all signed up and agreed to abide by the code of conduct on joining the gallery, but who also happen to be union representatives, were advised that any press enquiries should be handled by their union negotiations officer.

“The union negotiations officer is not a National Gallery employee.”

A PCS spokesman said that, if true, the gag was “a ludicrous overreaction to a totally legitimate dispute.

“We recognise that there are restrictions on civil servants speaking to the media, but that doesn’t extend to their roles as PCS reps. They have every right to speak on behalf of their members.”

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