In the past, your blogger has been critical of the fact that the Canadian Museums Association Ethics Guidelines mentions worker well-being concerns only in the context of the dangers involved in live animal collections care & in disaster planning for visitors (Canadian Museums Association 2006: 10).
Given the proofs cited in my last blog post (Thistle 2021) & other recent essays here about the woeful state of working conditions in the museum industry, I want to raise the following necessary attention to museum worker Quality of Working Lives (QWL) in advance of a special meeting called on 30 April for CMA members concerned about the direction of our professional organisation & the CMA’s Annual General Meeting to follow on [Update 3 May 3] 25 May.
This is to remind my readers again that the Museums Association (UK) Code of Ethics for Museums asserts the following ethical obligation:
Abide by a fair, consistent and transparent workforce policy for all those working in the museum, including those in unpaid positions” (Museums Association (UK) 2016: 19).
That same UK MA Code of Ethics web site page interestingly includes a link to a document titled “Code of Ethics: Additional Guidance” (Brown 2015).
Among the various principles established, it usefully provides section “3. (e) Working in and with museums” that includes the following inter alia:
Creating a fair and friendly workplace
Acknowledge that workforce policies can standardise good practice and contribute to better working conditions. Recognise the contribution to the work of the museum of all staff at every level. Avoid direct replacement of paid positions with unpaid positions. Ensure adherence to relevant employment law, and consistently co-operate with or carry out any appropriate scrutiny, appraisal or evaluations.
Recruiting and employing staff
Recognise that diversity of staff, volunteers and trustees enhances their representation of the museum’s present and potential audience, and enriches and refreshes museum practice. Encouraging public engagement and audience development can increase the diversity of job applicants, and vice versa.
Working fairly with volunteers and interns
Ensure that unpaid workers are employed under conditions which are legal, fair and provide sufficient structure and benefit for the individual and for the museum. Seek advice if necessary and follow relevant guidelines in the area, including MA guidelines relating to the use of interns.
Safety of Staff and Audiences
Museum management and governing bodies have a responsibility for the safety and security of all those who visit or work in museums. Ensure compliance with all relevant safety legislation, and have in place clear working practices for those in contact with potentially hazardous or dangerous items in the collection. (See also HSE RIDDOR requirements.) (Brown 2015: 13) [emphasis added].
Of course, I also often have noted that both the ICOM & the AAM Code of Ethics place the protection of museum workers on the same level as collections & finances (International Council of Museums 2017: 2; American Association of Museums 2000:2). I argue that the concepts of ‘safety’ & ‘protection’ for museum workers must include the right to be “free from overwork and excessive work intensification” (Arthurs 2006: x, xiii, 68-9, 110-1) [emphasis added].
Your blogger recommends in the strongest possible terms that CMA special members’ meeting tomorrow add poor working conditions to the concerns addressed in the proposed Mandate Letter for the CMA Board and Executive Director & that poor QWL be among the considerations for disposition at the CMA AGM.
Is there not a demonstrable desperate need to start taking action to fix the QWL problem? Apparently, it continues to be ‘missing in action’ at a time when revision of policies in the museum field & our professional museum association directions are ripe for revision (Thistle 2021).
In this observer’s view, the answer to my question undoubtedly is YES. NOW!
American Association of Museums. 2000. Code of Ethics for Museums. Washington: American Association of Museums [unpagenated version available at http://www.aam-us.org/resources/ethics-standards-and-best-practices/code-of-ethics (accessed 29 April 2021).
Arthurs, Harry W. 2006. Fairness at Work: Federal Labour Standards for the 21st Century. Ottawa: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada
Brown, Allistair. 2015. “Code of Ethics: Additional Guidance.” London: Museums Association (UK) at https://ma-production.ams3.digitaloceanspaces.com/app/uploads/2020/06/18145448/20012016-additional-guidance-to-the-code-of-ethics-2015-2.doc (accessed 29 April 2021).
Canadian Museums Association. 2006. Ethics Guidelines. Ottawa: Canadian Museums Association https://www.museums.ca/uploaded/web/docs/ethicsguidelines.pdf (accessed 29 April 2021).
International Council of Museums. 2017. ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums. Paris: International Council of Museums at https://icom.museum/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/ICOM-code-En-web.pdf (accessed 18 March 2019).
Museums Association (UK). 2016. Code of Ethics for Museums. London, UK: Museums Association https://ma-production.ams3.digitaloceanspaces.com/app/uploads/2020/06/18145449/20012016-code-of-ethics-single-page-8.pdf (accessed 29 April 2021).
Thistle, Paul C. “New Canadian National Museum Policy & Burnout Issue ‘Missing In Action’.” Solving Task Saturation for Museum Workers blog posted 6 April at https://solvetasksaturation.wordpress.com/2021/04/06/new-canadian-national-museum-policy-burnout-issue-missing-in-action/ (accessed 29 April 2021).