June 22, 2024

Employees threaten to sue for working conditions

Nearly fifty employees believe that working conditions in the Vatican Museums are unacceptable.Image: Cornerstone

Nearly fifty employees of the Vatican Museums are complaining about unacceptable working conditions and security negligence – and are threatening to sue the Vatican.

Dominik Stroup, Roma/Media

“Your Eminence, working conditions violate the dignity and health of every employee.” So begins a fiery letter from Italian lawyer Laura Sgro, written on behalf of a total of 49 employees of the Vatican Museums. The letter, excerpts of which were recently published in the Corriere della Sera newspaper, is addressed to the Corial Cardinal Fernando Vergés Alzaga. He is the head of the Prefecture of Vatican City, the administration of Vatican City State, to which the Vatican Museums also belong.

The letter contains the most serious allegations against museum management, both regarding working conditions and visitor safety. Basic rules of labor law were missing from working conditions. There is also hardly any social safety net.

Worse still: When museums were closed during the pandemic and employees were sent on forced leave, their time off counted as absence from work, which they then had to work on. In addition, Pope Francis has frozen wages in light of the Vatican’s financial problems. In short: working conditions in the Vatican Museums are unacceptable.

epa11352316 Pope Francis presides over the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of Pentecost in St. Peter's

Pope Francis during the Pentecost Mass. He has been the head of the Catholic Church since March 13, 2013.Image: Cornerstone

The lawyer is not well known in the Vatican

The safety complaints in the letter are also serious. Despite the actual maximum of 24,000 visitors per day at the Vatican Museums, between 25,000 and 30,000 visitors are regularly admitted. Neither room ventilation nor security personnel were able to deal with the rush. The letter notes that exhibits may also be damaged, especially in the hot and humid summer months.

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The Vatican Museums, which are among the most important museums in the world, are run by Italian art historian Barbara Gatta. Her appointment in January 2017 by Pope Francis caused a stir because, as museum director, she was given by far the most important position the Vatican has ever given to a woman.

So far, neither Gata nor the president of the province, Cardinal Fernando Verges Alzaga, have commented on the massive allegations made by the employees. This may be because the letter’s author, Laura Sgro, has few friends in the Vatican. She represents several abuse victims who are suing the Vatican.

Officially, the delivery of a letter of complaint to the prefecture does not yet constitute a lawsuit: mediation will be attempted within the next 30 days; Only if that fails can the 49 employees file a joint lawsuit against the Vatican. Such a class action would be the first of its kind in the Papal States, which have neither unions nor a labor court. About 700 people work in the Vatican Museums. With an annual income of about 100 million euros, the museums are the most important source of income for Vatican City. So there is a lot at stake.

The employees’ allegations are also scathing because Pope Francis has repeatedly condemned worker exploitation in countless sermons, writings, and devotions since his election more than a decade ago; He even once called it a “mortal sin.” As absolute monarch of the Papal State, he also ultimately bears responsibility for the staff of the Vatican Museums. (aargauerzeitung.ch)