Unprecedented social discontent in the Vatican Museums

Italy. The Pope should meditate on the Parable of the Beam before writing his next sermon on capitalism. François never stops attacking the “commodification of human beings”. Yet this is what his own employees accuse him of. More precisely, fifty out of the 700 in the Vatican Museums. They threaten to launch “ the first class action of the employees of the sovereign pontiff ». Forty-nine of them, including forty-seven guards, decided to initiate legal proceedings to challenge their working conditions. A letter was addressed to Cardinal Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, President of the Governorate of Vatican City State. “Working conditions undermine the dignity and health of each employee,” we read. The mismanagement is obvious, and it would be even more serious if it was due to the sole aim of generating more profits. » Revenue in 2022 from the Pope's museums stood at 120 million euros.

Employees denounce in particular arbitrary assignments and promotions, overtime working hours paid at lower rates and criticize insufficient health and safety provisions. Demands that are difficult to assert in the smallest state in the world, which does not recognize unions. “ The workers only decided on this action after all their demands and requests, over the years, went unanswered.”, explains their lawyer while the management of the Vatican Museums refuses to comment for the moment. Their petition points out, for example, the management of sick leave: whatever the reason, Vatican employees are not authorized to leave their homes because a visit from social affairs inspectors can occur at any time. “We do not benefit from unemployment insurance or financial support measures in the event of a crisis or total loss of activity”, specify the complainants. Those who had been left idle during the Covid-19 pandemic are even being asked to return the salaries paid during this period.

If these demands concern all employees serving the Holy See, those of the Vatican Museums put forward dysfunctions which are specific to their work environment. The security of the exhibited works for which they are responsible would be threatened, as would those of the visitors who continue to flock to the most visited museums in the world after the Louvre. In 2022, they crossed the threshold of 5 million, an increase of 215% over one year, approaching the record before the pandemic where nearly 7 million tourists crossed the threshold to admire the Sistine Chapel, the Belvedere Torso, Raphael's Rooms or even the paintings of Caravaggio, Titian or Guido Reni. “ Every day between 25 and 30,000 people pass through the museumspecify its guardians, while the ceiling on the number of visitors was set at 24,000. This is already a huge threshold for our capabilities. » Barely two emergency exits would be accessible while the air conditioning is faulty, causing discomfort among the guards and damaging the works. Only one gendarme ensures security, which is little deterrent to managing the excesses of tourists.

The Vatican has 30 days to respond to what would be the first class action targeting the Holy See finally deplore the total lack of reaction from their hierarchy, to whom they have repeatedly presented their grievances. The petition represents the first formal step in a mandatory conciliation procedure provided for by Vatican law. The Vatican Museums now have thirty days to respond, otherwise the matter will be taken to court. “ The Pope keeps talking about rights but we are considered mere merchandise”, deplore the guards. “ With this action we want to be constructive, we hope that it will be an opportunity to rethink the rules of work in the Vatican », Adds their lawyer.

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