'Only just the start'

GLL library staff hail sick pay victory - but fight not over

Reading time: 4 min

Library staff from Greenwich and Bromley gathered outside Woolwich Central Library last week to highlight their demands for improved pay and conditions.

But they also came to hail an important victory in the dispute after a shocking 20 per cent pay cut for sick workers was scrapped following campaigning by Unite.

As the early morning sun shone on Unite library staff’s banners and flags, passers-by stopped to find out more about the dispute and offer their support to workers who provide a vital service that does far more than lend books.

Unite member Frederick Sullivan-Wallace, who works at the Greenwich Centre, explained, “Libraries offer a huge amount to the local community. It’s not just about books now. We run arts and craft sessions, clubs for kids of all ages, coffee mornings.”


“We have Digital Champions based in the library to help people access computers – something that is vital in looking for work or claiming benefits. In fact, we have events and activities on every day of the week, all organised and supported by library staff.”

“A library is one of the last places you can go to and not have to pay anything – something that is really appreciated.”

Fellow librarian and Unite member Patrick MacDonald from Woolwich Central Library agreed.


“Many people come to use the computers at the library for job searches straight after visiting the Job Centre over the road,” he said. “We also now offer a biometric service and cheap printing. We really are at the heart of the community.”


In fact, the library is so popular that the local South London Press recently reported national statistics showing that the Woolwich Centre Library is the second busiest library in the UK, with more than half a million people walking through its doors between 2020 and 2021.

Staff had also sounded the alarm over a policy where 20 per cent is deducted from their wages if they are off sick. The policy was implemented by Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), the social enterprise that runs the services. Unite has highlighted that such a policy would have been unthinkable if libraries were still run by the council.

But determined action by Unite and its members has forced GLL to change its policy last week – the 20 per cent sickness clause has now been scrapped.

Unite regional officer Mary Summers, who spoke to the public at the demo, told UniteLive, “The public have been very supportive, and quite rightly shocked when told that their library staff face a 20% cut in their pay if they are sick.


“Staff offer a helping hand and a friendly face to many across the community – and the public I spoke to wanted to see them treated fairly when it comes to pay and conditions.”

Meanwhile, Unite national lead officer Onay Kasab explained how Unite will continue piling on the pressure as the dispute continues.

He said, “This is only just the start, and we will keep the momentum going. We will be visiting GLL’s partner organisations and asking them if they really want to be partners with a company that employs staff on zero-hours contracts.


“Action has already brought results, and we will keep up the pressure and keep fighting for an end to zero-hour contracts at GLL and for improved pay and conditions. Ultimately, we’re also fighting for the future of libraries in Greenwich.”


By Keith Hatch