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Staff at Cinquantenaire museum condemn toxic working conditions

08:42 13/04/2023

Staff at the Cinquantenaire Art and History Museums (MRAH) say they are on the verge of burnout and have criticised working conditions that they described as toxic.

Empreva, the Belgian federal public administration's occupational health and safety service, has drawn up a report on the psycho-social risks incurred by the staff, Le Soir reports.

That report, which denounces psychosocial risks for the museum staff, was sent to secretary of state Thomas Dermine and leaked to the French-language outlet RTBF.

It includes references to manipulation of personnel "with promises that the management does not keep", and of a lack of respect for "the rules and ethics in the management of a scientific institution".

Staff members anonymously reported burnouts and depressions, saying "our managers are turning a deaf ear, while we are surviving in a generalised malaise".

Museum director Bruno Verbergt’s spokesperson said that he was aware of the report.

“He read the document and organised a meeting with the complainants before his departure for holiday,” the spokesperson told Le Soir.

Anne Goffart, head of communications for the MRAH, said that only “a part of the staff is concerned by this malaise” adding that she was “very surprised by Empreva's communication” even though “the museums suffer from a chronic lack of staff”.

Staff say that an ambitious exhibition policy implemented by Bruno Verbergt is what has led to an increase in pressure and workload.

Not all tasks can be carried out to the expected standard and some departments have seen their staff reduced, while the services to be provided have remained unchanged.

Currently on an official visit with the King to the Kourou space centre in French Guiana, Dermine sent Le Soir an initial reaction to the Empreva report, stating that “the wellbeing of all the workers of the federal science policy services is paramount”.

The secretary of state intends to create initiatives to enable the museums to make new investments and to appoint a fully-fledged director general at the MRAH by the summer, as current director Bruno Verbergt has been acting as interim director since 2021.

That situation is incompatible with the proper management of an institution of the size and importance of the MRAH, Dermine acknowledged.

The secretary of state added that Arnaud Vajda, president of Belspo (the management body of the Belgian federal scientific institutions of which the MRAH is a part) has his “full support in the actions to be taken to ensure the well-being of the workers”.

Written by Helen Lyons