Fight at the museum

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Environmental activist Karen Swaine will sue Arrowtown’s Lakes District Museum after she and two other staffers were abruptly laid off. 

The museum archivist/researcher says she’s “stunned” at being given her marching orders last Saturday.
Don’t come Monday, she was told. 

Swaine is talking to her lawyer and vows to take legal action: “Without a doubt.” 

Part-timer Swaine had been in her job eight years while fulltime administrator and front-desk staffer Bridget McDonald – also laid off last weekend – had been there for 15 years. Swaine’s part-time archives assistant Anne Maguire also lost her job in the restructure. 

Swaine says the museum won’t compensate her for losing her job because she had no redundancy clause in her contract. 

Last month, Mountain Scene revealed Lakes District Museum was to restructure because of trading losses and post-earthquake structural fears. 

After losing $25,000 in 2009-10, the current year was looking even worse, museum deputy chair Pam Wilson said. Some of the four full-time and seven part-time positions were at risk. 

Swaine has been in restructuring talks over her job description and salary for about two months but actually being fired was “a bombshell”, she says. 

“I haven’t done anything wrong, I have a clean employee file – nobody ever said I’d done anything wrong and then here comes this.” 

Her environmental activism outside the museum has come back to haunt her, she believes. 

“I’ve certainly stuck my head up above the parapet in numerous ways … and gotten shot down.” 

Because her research/archive work is so specialised, she faces having to leave the Wakatipu to work in her field, she says. 

“We’ve only got one museum here.” 

Longtime local and amateur historian Mike Lynch says the departure of the archivists is a worry. 

“I’m sad to lose the archivists,” he says. 

“It’s quite a big thing to have somebody there with some knowledge. 

“She’s been there eight years Karen, and she knows a heap,” Lynch says. 

Museum board chairman John Wilson says the museum is facing tough times and had to restructure. 

“It’s a normal business thing that we’re entitled to do and we did it. 

“We will have an archives department – it won’t be manned like it was before and it may just take a little longer to get the inquiries done.” 

Two new part-time roles are now available at the museum, including one front-desk position. 

Wilson hopes both will be filled within a month – and plans to contract out the accounting duties.