Negotiations are continuing between the Tate and the three unions that represent the 800-plus employees working at Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool, and Tate St. Ives. Although a proposal for a pay raise put forth last week was rejected by the majority of employees, recent reports in the British press about a possible strike at the galleries have been “premature,” according to Piers Townshend, a union secretary.

The three unions for Tate employees, Public and Commercial Services (PCS), the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists (IPMS), and the First Division Association (FDA), represent, respectively, low-, middle-, and high-income-level employees at the Tate organization. The PCS union accepted the Tate’s offer of a 7.5 percent pay raise, bringing their average annual salary up to £12,000. The IPMS and the FDA were proposed salary increases of only 2.7 percent, just slightly above the inflation rate. The pay increase, which would be retroactive from April 2001, was rejected unanimously by the FDA and by a majority of IPMS members, who include curators and conservators.

“We feel we’re underpaid with respect to other public sectors,” explains Townshend. The inequality can be traced back to the Conservative government, which in 1997 untied museum employees from other civil servants. Since then, wages have been not determined centrally but negotiated separately at each gallery or museum. “Our salaries have slipped,” claims Townshend. “Now, we make 10 percent less than the civil servants.”

While Townshend was disappointed with the Tate’s recent offer, he says that a strike or a work stoppage is unrealistic for the moment. “If we discontinued working unpaid overtime, the galleries’ activities would come to a stop.” According to Townshend, the Tate would like to pay more, but the money is simply not there. Director Nicholas Serota has promised to discuss the problem with trustees before talks with the IPMS and FDA resume in September.