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British unions seek to close top tourist attraction in strike

(Xinhua)

14:07, January 13, 2012

LONDON, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- A top tourist attraction in central London is set to be hit by industrial action called by a trade union in a dispute over job cuts, it was announced Thursday.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said it would call out its members on strike on two days later this month because jobs were being cut.

The National Gallery -- which houses Britain's national collection of paintings including works by Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Constable and Renoir among others -- is the flagship British art gallery.

It is currently hosting a record-breaking and sold-out exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci's drawings, and is close to the top of attractions for many visitors to London.

The PCS said workers would be called out on strike on Thursday, Jan. 19, for two hours, and again on Saturday, Jan. 28, warning in its website that "more strikes are possible if management don't review staffing levels."

The union said it is taking strike action because the gallery has cut staff in response to budget cuts imposed by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) that is responsible for funding it.

The gallery denies this and a spokeswoman told Xinhua no jobs were being cut and the strike was over changing working practices.

The National Gallery is undergoing a 15-percent cut in its grant from the DCMS over four years, starting last April.

British Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government had set itself the main economic task of reducing the near-record level of government spending debt, estimated at 127 billion pounds (about 194.7 billion U.S. dollars) by the end of last year.

To do this, Finance Minister, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has decided to cut government departmental budgets by up to 30 percent in some cases over a five-year period. Job losses have already reached at least 200,000 and could be up to 710,000 by the end of the program.

Up to 2 million public sector workers including senior government officials, academics, teachers, firefighters, ambulance workers, nurses and hospital workers, staged a one-day strike on November 30. It was the largest strike in 80 years and the most significant industrial unrest in a generation.

The coalition of 29 unions which backed that strike seems to have fractured as some unions, like Britain's largest union Unison, have moved towards reaching an agreement with the government.

The spokeswoman told Xinhua, "We have only just been notified, so now we have to make arrangements to deal with the consequences, and a priority is the Leonardo exhibition and the public's enjoyment of that."

Galleries could be closed because of the strike, but the National Gallery could not be certain because "we will not know our staffing levels until the morning of the strike," the spokeswoman added.

The PCS said in a statement that following cuts last year a valuable masterpiece, Nicolas Poussin's 'The Adoration of the Golden Calf' was "vandalized in an unguarded room."

The spokeswoman said, "Any National Gallery room that is open to the public is always guarded. It was the prompt action and quick thinking of our gallery assistant staff that led to the swift apprehension of the attacker. CCTV footage of the incident shows us that it took 16 seconds from the start of the attack to his being detained."

The painting and another damaged in the attack were repaired quickly and were on show again within 48 hours of the attack.

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