MUSEUM staff across Southend could lose their jobs under plans to slash opening hours, a union fears.

The Southend branch of Unison claims it is “cultural vandalism” to reduce opening hours across the council’s five museums and will lead to experienced staff departing.

Unison fear the reduction in hours could lead to 28 “peak relief ” staff who offer flexible support and cover as front of house staff being cut.

The council is considering cutting hours during the week, with Kevin Robinson, councillor responsible for leisure and tourism, insisting visitor numbers drop on week days.

Unison branch secretary, Claire Wormald, said: “We fear many museums staff may feel their only option is to look elsewhere for employment.

“It’s shocking that in a town which should be looking to benefit from reopening our visitor attractions, we’re making them harder to access. It’s cultural vandalism, but it seems like economic madness as well.

“Our museums will be open less, will be harder to keep safe and will have a workforce who are under greater pressure if these proposals go ahead.”

If the plans go ahead the Beecroft Gallery, Prittlewell Priory, Central Museum, Southchurch Hall and Southend Planetarium would all have hours reduced. 

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Opening hours could be cut from 10am to 5pm to 11am to 4pm at the museums.

Mr Robinson said increased hours at weekends are being considered and the council was keen to get rid of zero-hour contracts.

He said: “Everyone that works for the museums will have a contract and will know exactly the amount of hours they will be working and hopefully as we go towards the summer we are expecting a lot more visitors due to the restrictions on overseas travel.

“In this day and age what people need is job security and having people on zero-hour contracts is not something that we wanted.

“We found we were getting more at weekends and less in the week and made alterations to the hours to change to the extra hours on Sunday.”

Mr Robinson insisted he was happy for Unison to make representations to the council for further discussions.