Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
 / Updated 
By Alastair Jamieson

LONDON — Most workers are asked to chip in for a co-worker’s leaving gift at some time or other.

But spare a thought for employees at one of the world’s leading art institutions— including cleaners and security officers — who were told they might want to contribute money to buy a sailing boat for their $214,000-a-year boss.

A notice went up in the staff rooms in the Tate Modern and Tate Britain galleries asking for contributions toward the vessel for Nicholas Serota, the organization's long-serving director who is leaving to take up a $52,000-a-year part-time role.

The suggestion, which came one week after employees’ canteen discount was taken away, was greeted with derision after it was leaked on the internet.

Director of Tate Sir Nicholas Serota during a press conference at the Tate Modern in London, England on June 14, 2016.Jack Taylor / Getty Images

A union called it “insensitive” and said many junior workers at the galleries were underpaid or on so-called zero-hours contracts that offer no guaranteed income or company benefits.

Serota will leave the Tate — whose four museums include London’s Tate Modern, the world’s most-visited art gallery — at the end of next month.

“Nick loves sailing and this would be a lasting and very special reminder of the high regard which I know so many of us have for Nick and his contribution to Tate,” the notice said. It was taken down after being ridiculed.

One angry worker set up a GoFundMe page joking that Serota’s “legacy of outsourcing, union-busting, stagnating wages and corporate smooching will be dearly missed.”

The notice was taken down.@Gallery_Worker / Twitter

“As you can see from the picture of the poster found at the service staff room of the Tate Britain, Mr Serota is likely to get the pay for all his hard work — a yacht. I have been inspired by this crowdsourcing technique and hoping that I can ask for something even more frivolous such as money for rent, transport and lunch (the staff canteen just put the prices up, you see).”

Another worker told The Guardian newspaper that relations between management and staff at the gallery were “farcical,” adding: "For us, Serota’s legacy among staff is one of privatization and … and turning the Tate into [a shopping mall] with pictures.”

The PCS union said in a statement that the request “shows how far Tate management are removed from the reality of the everyday lives of staff and the fact that many of them can barely afford to pay their bills.”

It added: “It is insensitive that Tate management would even think to do this and we would encourage them to concentrate on listening to our concerns.”

In a statement to NBC News, the Tate described the gift as a "dinghy" and said contributions were "entirely voluntary."

"The idea for Nicholas Serota’s leaving gift came from the staff themselves who wanted to mark his 26 years of service to Tate," it said.