Assaults on workers’ rights take shine off Dundee’s V&A

by Mike Arnott, secretary, Dundee Trades Council • On 18 April, the first day of the STUC Congress, our Dundee Trades Union Council delegation became aware of an issue which could deal a heavy blow to one of the potentially successful aspects of the new V&A Design Museum currently being built on the Dundee waterfront.

DUNDEE V&A: workers could have worse pay and pension terms than the rest of Scotland’s museum staff forced upon them

The issue concerned attempts by the V&A management in London to create an arms length body to employ any new starts at the institution, on terms and conditions less than the current Civil Service levels. How would this impact the Dundee V&A?

Obviously one of the positives of the whole development was the creation of new jobs at agreed Civil Service rates, especially as many of the other jobs in proposed developments around the waterfront seemed to be destined for the hospitality/retail/catering sectors; notorious low payers.

A local journalist was briefed and his resulting story, in Saturday 23 April’s Courier, established that the truth was even worse: All the staff destined to work in the V&A in Dundee would be employees of a new charitable company; Design Dundee Ltd.

This new independent construct of Dundee City Council, Dundee University and the V&A, with a board comprising a majority of members with earnings in excess of £100K, admitted it hadn’t even carried out pay or conditions comparisons with other organisations.

But by a stroke of their collective pen, the V&A in Dundee will employ staff on a status unknown in any other national arts and heritage institution in Scotland, denied Civil Service pay rates, terms and conditions or access to the Civil Service pension scheme.

An appointed body, with no democratically elected component and apparently negligible democratic oversight, managing the deployment of tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, has so decided.

Former Dundee Industrial Chaplain and fellow member, with myself, of the Dundee Fairness Commission, Erik Cramb, commented:

“I hope that Design Dundee Limited will recognise that the meanness of their argument that ‘DDL employees are not civil servants and therefore not employed on civil service terms and conditions’ is in complete contradiction to the spirit of hope that the coming of the V&A has generated.
“If their employees are doing the same job as civil service museum workers elsewhere, then it is right and proper that they should receive the same terms and conditions”.

PCS have been kept in the loop, as the main Civil Service trade union, and lobbying of City Councillors has already begun.

But following the initial selection of a design which many serious architects doubted could be built to the specified cost, the ballooning of the budget to allow that same chosen design to be built, the awarding of the construction contract to an identified blacklister BAM Construction and the claim that local labour guarantees weren’t being met, this latest revelation takes further shine off what was destined to be a further jewel in Dundee’s crown.

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