British Museum workers vote for strike action

LONDON Fri Oct 19, 2012 11:46am EDT

LONDON Oct 19 (Reuters) - British cleaners at one of the world's most popular museums have voted to strike over the transfer of their jobs to private companies, their unions said on Friday.

Unions for workers at the British Museum in London said the date for a walkout had not been decided, but that it would close down parts of a cultural mecca which draws five million visitors a year to see such treasures as the Rosetta Stone, ancient Greek sculptures from the Parthenon, Egyptian mummies and much more.

Around 70 cleaning and maintenance staff could walk out over concerns that transferring their employment to a private company would see a cut in pay and conditions for the workers who maintain a British institution often listed alongside the Louvre in Paris, Washington's National Air and Space Museum and the Vatican Museum in Italy as a must-see for any tourist.

"We have a situation where members, who have been working at the museum for over 30 years, are being sold off like cattle," said Carolyn Simpson, regional officer for the Unite trade union, one of the two unions representing the workers.

A museum spokeswoman said that pay and conditions for workers would be the same under the new contract.

Roughly half of the museum's facilities are already run by outsourcing companies such as Mitie, which looks after some cleaning services, and maintenance contractor Norland.

Both companies have put in bids for the new contract covering facilities management across the entire museum, and it should be signed by the end of the year, the spokeswoman said.