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Prospect: Working for conservators whatever your employment status

This year marks the centenary of a number of trade unions that have merged together to form Prospect, which is the union representing more than 6,000 members in the Heritage Sector across the UK. As the world of work has changed, some people have questioned whether unions still have any meaningful role in modern society and, if they do, what it is. Some people are even unsure what trade unions are and why they exist. This blog seeks to explain why unions are still relevant and why it’s important that you should join one, whatever your employment status.

So what is a trade union?

In times of uncertainty you need a Union on your side. A trade union is an association of employees who have come together to achieve common goals, such as improving pay or terms and conditions. Many of the benefits people take for granted at work, such as annual leave, maternity pay, weekends, lunchbreaks were won by unions. History proves that unions are essential and integral for rights.

Unions negotiate with the Employer on issues such as pay; have a legal right to be consulted over proposed changes to the organisation and represent individual members if they encounter issues at work. As we are a member-led organisation, it’s our members who set the agenda.

Trade unions are independent of the employer, and enable employees to have a collective voice and raise concerns without risk. They encourage life-long learning and career development, offer a wide range of member benefits and can provide access to free legal advice and representation.

This year Prospect has concluded a number of substantial pay deals eg at Tate where the increase on the pay bill was 3.95% and have been supporting members taking industrial action to secure better deals at the Science Museum Group and Museum of London. In the past, we have won some major equal pay legal cases and reached settlements on equal pay in the heritage sector.

We have also been carrying out a pay survey of our members in heritage, including conservators and will be working with Icon in relation to the results.

Where does Prospect organise and what can it do for freelancers?

Most of the 6,000 members of Prospect in the Heritage Sector are employees of the national museums, galleries and libraries across the UK, the National Trust/National Trust Scotland, Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland etc but a growing number of our members across the union are ‘atypical workers’ such as freelancers, casuals, interns and even volunteers. The union is developing its services to be able to meet the needs of these workers. We recently merged with BECTU the Broadcasting, Entertainment and Cinematographic Trade Union who represent thousands of freelancers in broadcasting. For them we have negotiated a bespoke indemnity insurance scheme at preferential rates. Within the heritage sector we are investigating whether it would be feasible to negotiate such a scheme for Conservators. We already provide free tax advice and support as well as free legal advice and representation to our freelancer and other members.

More widely within the union we have taken many legal cases based on the status of the worker. Within football, for example, we successfully argued that referees/assistant referees were workers and therefore covered by discrimination legislation and as such were able to win a case that enforced retirement at age 48 amounted to age discrimination. In 2019, we won cases for freelancer members where they were shown to be employees or workers and were entitled to claim unfair dismissal, holiday pay and discrimination. There are many other cases where we have supported cases involving the status of the worker and the size of our union allows us to do this at no cost to the member beyond their membership fees.

In April 2020 tax rules will change and will encourage companies to review the relationships they have with workers who provide their services through limited companies. It is likely that some members will be re-categorised as employees and may want to challenge these decisions. Prospect can help.

We are also able to negotiate with employers on the rates that apply to freelancers and casuals. Clearly our bargaining strength is greater where our membership is higher so please do think about joining.

Being a freelancer does not also prevent you being bullied or sexually harassed and Prospect has carried out detailed research on sexual harassment and produced an important guide for members on the issues. We made a submission to the Government last month calling for the introduction of a mandatory duty on employers to prevent sexual (and other forms of harassment) and to ensure that this duty applies to atypical workers such as freelancers. Arguably, atypical workers who are less likely to be unionised are more vulnerable to harassment as they do not have access to union support and advice.

What else is Prospect doing?

A key issue that Prospect has been dealing with lately is Brexit and the impact on our members. A survey we carried out in the Heritage sector showed that 16.5% of our members were non-UK EU nationals. We have argued against the income threshold of £30k that has been proposed for new arrivals; we set up a Brexit mini web site to provide advice to members and we have set up a guide for members on applying for settled status. Prospect members will be able to register for a phone-in session on settled status to be run by Thompsons solicitors on 14 November at 13:00-14:00 and we are also inviting Icon members to join the call. If you are interested please register via email with your name and state that you are an Icon member or give the name of your Branch if you are already a member.

In International Stress Awareness Week, we are pressing employers to tackle stress and reminding members of the actions they can take to prevent stress – contained in our preventing work related stress guide for members;

We will be seeking to provide information to our members to help them to make their decision in the General Election. Prospect is politically independent, therefore does not make any donations to, and is not affiliated to any political party;

Climate Change: Prospect represents some of the world’s leading climate scientists and our members in the energy sector are working hard to secure a low carbon future. We are providing tools advice and information to upskill members on environmental issues. We also campaign locally and nationally on many other issues affecting wider membership;

Following the election we will be seeking to relaunch our campaign to secure better Government funding for the heritage sector; and

We are seeking to work with employers and others to increase diversity of those who work in the heritage sector.

Join Prospect

This is a brief overview of some of the work Prospect is doing in the sector. If you are interested in joining us please look at our website where you can find out more about us and the benefits and services for members. You can also join online here, and if you join in November you will receive 3 months free membership. With Prospect, you are protected from the day you join. Please contact me if you have any questions.

Members of Prospect will receive a £10 voucher for every new member they recruit between 9 and 16 November so please do talk to your colleagues about Prospect membership.


The views expressed in these comments are the views of the individual and do not reflect the views of The Institute of Conservation. Any comments containing inappropriate language or copyright material will be removed.

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