The staff at Windsor Castle will begin voting Tuesday on a potential strike, which would be the first such action in history for employees of Britain's royal family. Workers are protesting the extra duties that low-paid employees in the castle's kitchens and cloakrooms are expected to perform in order to accommodate the many visitors to the property. From the Telegraph:
Castle staff start on as little as £14,400 [$23,000] per year, meaning they earn less than the living wage, but are expected to carry out extra duties for no extra pay, such as giving guided tours to paying visitors and acting as interpreters and first-aiders.
The Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents 120 of the 200 staff at Windsor, says the Royal household has broken promises over giving the staff extra allowances for carrying out the extra duties.
The staff aren't threatening to walk out completely, just "work to rule" and perform only the tasks for which they're being paid. The workers' union says the action would have "a signifcant impact" on the flow of visitors (and revenue for the royal family) coming through the castle.
Ths dispute has the potential to leak out beyond the castle walls, coming just as a general election campaign is about to get started in Britain; if the workers decide to take action, it would begin right before the public heads to the polls. Such an event could be a headache for the Conservatives, since they are seen as the most loyal to the monarchy and most likely to excuse their extravagance. The Guardian quotes a union spokesperson as saying that the timing is "coincidental" but that the proximity of the election would be "nonetheless welcome if it helps to put some added focus on how badly paid royal household staff are."
Supporters of abolishing the monarchy are using the controversy to renew calls for an elected head of state, but Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the union, says workers just want to be compensated properly for their contributions. Even better, he says, castle administration should be taken away from the royal family in favor of elected officials so employees can "call to account those who are paying them."
"These workers are loyal to their employer and absolutely committed to ensuring visitors are given the royal treatment," Serwotka told the Guardian. "It is scandalous that staff are so appallingly paid and expected to do work for free that brings in money for the royal family.”