PCS protest at Tate Modern over zero hours contracts

Tate Modern has joined the ever-growing number of national institutions and businesses who employ vulnerable people on zero hour contracts. The Public and Commercial Services Union held a protest outside the gallery yesterday afternoon in support of workers there.

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The protest, which began at 1pm yesterday, was organised by the Young Members Section of the PCS, to raise awareness of the poor working conditions that many of the gallery’s staff endure.

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With banners, a megaphone, and lots of leaflets, they certainly shamed the Tate management while they were there. Cultural institutions like the Tate are often very sensitive to any damage to their public image, and so awareness campaigns like this can help add pressure to force a change in these loathsome practices. A campaign against Curzon cinemas covered earlier on this blog has brought management to the verge of recognising the BECTU union and beginning sensible collective negotiations.

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Other businesses currently using zero hours contracts include Sports Direct, Subway, McDonald’s, Domino’s, and Weatherspoons, but these more predictable names are also joined by organisations with an apparently less mercenary public image, such as the V & A, Science Museum, English Heritage, the National Trust, and the British Museum. Even the supposed worker’s co-operative, John Lewis, are still employing cleaners, hiding behind sub-contractors, on less than the London Living Wage.

A zero hours contract means that employees are sometimes telephoned on the same day and asked to come in at short notice. They can’t afford to turn down such requests, in case the offers stop. Their income is unpredictable from week to week, making it impossible to budget, plan ahead, or in some cases have enough money for food or rent. Employees are obliged to be available for any work offered, making it impossible to take on other work, and yet they don’t have any pension or holiday entitlements.

It’s estimated that around 5 million workers are now on these types of contracts, almost doubling in number over the past five years.

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As part of their campaign, PCS are suggesting that people write to the Tate management, and also write to the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, enquiries@bis.gsi.gov.uk and Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, enquiries@culture.gov.uk calling for a ban on zero hour contracts.