The National Gallery of Australia could make 12 per cent of its staff redundant as part of an “operational restructure” after a reported $3.6 million funding shortfall.
- Gallery director Nick Mitzevich says voluntary redundancies will be offered to staff initially
- The union says the institution needs to come up with $6.8 million in savings over the next five years
- Chief Minister Andrew Barr calls on the Commonwealth to help the national institution, citing the impact on jobs and tourism
In a statement today, the gallery’s director Nick Mitzevich confirmed redundancies would have to be made “across the organisation” to “protect the gallery’s long-term offering and financial stability”.
The institution had been beset by budget woes before being forced to close altogether due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU).
The union called on the Federal Government to protect staff from an efficiency dividend they said was “unsustainable” and had forced the gallery’s hand.
Director says NGA must change to be sustainable
Mr Mitzevich said a voluntary redundancy process would be implemented initially before the restructure could begin.
“We will be consulting with all employees during this process, and those team members who are leaving the gallery will be paid their full entitlements and offered wellbeing support and career assistance opportunities,” he said.
The gallery is presenting the restructure as a way to “modernise” its offering as a major cultural institution.
“The National Gallery of Australia represents Australia’s people, our diverse ideas and aesthetic expression, histories and relationship to the world,” Mr Mitzevich said.
He said becoming sustainable would mean change to the way they operated, including improving “data optimisation, asset renewal and service stabilisation.”
“The new structure will focus the National Gallery’s programs and create greater opportunities for the Australian and international community to engage with the national collection beyond its physical presence in Canberra,” a statement from the NGA said.
NGA vital for Canberra’s tourism recovery: Chief Minister
The CPSU said the NGA was being forced to come up with $6.8 million, meaning it was likely 30 to 40 staff members would lose their jobs in 2020.
They said this latest announcement followed a 10 per cent cut in staff four years earlier.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr called the news of the job losses “hugely disappointing” and said the NGA was struggling to meet efficiency dividends, which cuts public sector budgets by a certain percentage each year.
Introduced by the Hawke Labor government in 1987 in an effort to reap the benefits of advancing technology, the percentage has dialled up significantly in the past decade.
“At a time when our country is hurting, continuing to enforce efficiency dividends on our National Institutions is reckless and hurtful to many families,” Mr Barr said.
Mr Barr said the announcement was also a blow for Canberra’s ailing tourism industry and called on the Commonwealth to do more to help it recover by offering support to the NGA.
“Rebuilding our tourism industry is an important component of Canberra’s Recovery Plan,” he said.
“Our tourism industry contributes over $2.5 billion a year to our local economy and employs tens of thousands of Canberrans.
“When the Commonwealth can fund $500 million for the redevelopment of the War Memorial, there should not be job losses in other institutions.”
Union says maintenance costs partly to blame
The CPSU blamed utility costs, building maintenance and falling interest rates as just some of the financial pressures faced by the NGA.
Already impacted by costs after a destructive hailstorm badly damaged the gallery’s roof and some of its outdoor exhibits in January, the gallery was then shut down due to the pandemic.
The union said more needed to be done at a government level to rescue the NGA, which was still unable to draw the kinds of crowds it had seen before coronavirus.
“Whilst the gallery remains open, serious measures to ensure public and staff safety mean that access is restricted and the future exhibitions uncertain.”
The union’s deputy national secretary Beth Vincent-Pietsch said the gallery was more than just an employer and was a part of Australia’s national identity.
“More than that it has a legislated mandate to collect, exhibit, and restore the very best of Australian and international art.”
A spokesperson for the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher said $27.8 million in capital support was given to the NGA by the Federal Government over the previous three years.
“The National Gallery of Australia is implementing measures that, while difficult for a number of staff, will make its operations more sustainable for the future,” the spokesperson said.
“The Government provides significant funding to cultural institutions such as the NGA, and all publicly funded bodies are expected to operate efficiently and deliver value for the public money that is being invested in them.”