Kew's budding revolt spreads to picket line

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The Independent Online

Labour Editor

Chris Kidd might be forgiven for comparing some of his managers to the Aristolochia Grandiflora.

According to Mr Kidd, the flower "looks like a toilet, smells disgusting, has the colour of rotting flesh and is pollinated by flies". Mr Kidd, along with 80 of his colleagues at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, is not best pleased with his superiors.

Tomorrow they are staging the first strike since the renowned horticultural centre was established more than 200 years ago.

Mr Kidd is one of the world's leading specialists in the practical propagation of lowland tropical rainforest herbaceous plants and is paid a basic salary of pounds 8,500 a year. With overtime at weekends in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, he makes pounds 11,000 for overseeing the development of 1,600 varieties.

"Management say they want to help us by introducing performance-related pay, but the system they want to introduce will be based on the subjective judgement of line managers. If you don't get on with your line manager, you've had it."

The expert botanists and horticulturists have been offered a basic rise of 0.9 per cent plus performance pay which the GMB general union claims would mean an average 2.5 per cent increase, but management puts the figure at 6.5 per cent.

Union officials have suggested, not without irony, that salaries might be concomitant with growth of the flora for which they are responsible.

In that case Mr Kidd would have done rather well. The flower of his beloved Aristolochia Grandiflora was a highly unusual 5ft 6in long. What might push his salary into six figures, however, was his propagation last year of the world's biggest water lily with a diameter of 8ft 71/2in. While management hopes to keep the gardens open despite the stoppage, visitors will be faced with a picket line of highly qualified strikers.

Most of the youngest specialists have degrees in horticulture, while Mr Kidd, who at 28 is among the older members of staff with six years' experience at Kew, came to the job via the Portsmouth Parks Department. He now holds the Kew diploma in horticulture which qualifies him to undertake work at a post-graduate level.

With him on the picket line tomorrow will be Jane Allen of the Palm House who is an expert in cycads, extremely primitive plants which existed at the time of the dinosaurs.

Also present will be DushaHayes, who like Mr Kidd is an active member of the GMB and who nurtures Kew's unsurpassed collection of orchids.

It will be a highly unusual picket line tomorrow with little more than a mild ticking off for colleagues who ignore it.