Vatican Museums Staff Allege “Unfair and Poor” Working Conditions

12May 15, 2024

Vatican Museums Staff Allege …

Forty-nine workers at theVatican Museumsin Rome have presented Pope Francis’s administration with a petition denouncing what they say are “unfair and poor” workplace conditions. The petition, which went to the Vatican’s governorate, the body that administers the Vatican City State, is the first step in a mandatory conciliation process under Vatican law, which forbids unionization in Vatican City. If no agreement can be reached, the workers can bring their case against the Holy See to Vatican Court, in a move that would be extremely embarrassing for Francis’s administration.

The Vatican Museums, which include Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, are among the most visited arts institutions in the world, alongside the British Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris.

According to Italian daily Corriere della Sera, which broke the news on May 12, the employees—all of whom are Italian citizens, and many of whom are veteran museum attendants—claim that they are treated like “commodities” and in a manner that “undermine[s] each worker’s dignity and health.” Among their complaints are that the museums frequently welcome more visitors in a day than permitted by the maximum entry limit, leading to overcrowding; that the number of emergency exits are in some instances inadequate, as in the mile-long Sistine Chapel passageway, which has just a single exit at either end; and that many rooms lack air-conditioning, leading to discomfort and illness for staffers and to conservation issues regarding the works. As well, the workers contend that they were commanded to stay home during the Covid-19 crisis and subsequently ordered to hand back wages earned during that period, with a sum being withheld from each paycheck until the “debt” was paid.

“With this action we want to be constructive, we hope this can prove the right occasion for a general rethinking of the Vatican labor rules,” said attorney Laura Sgrò, who is representing the workers. Sgrò told Corriere della Sera that she believed more of the seven hundred staffers employed by the museums would sign on to the petition in the coming days. Artforum has reached out to the Vatican Museums for comment.