National Library staff suffer 20% pay cut

“We’re librarians, not radicals, but our members are struggling to pay their bills.”

NATIONAL Library of Wales staff have been forced to take strike action in a dispute over pay, causing the library to close on Wednesday 10th.
Unions balloted for strike action over a lack of any consolidated pay rise in the last five years, leaving some staff earning below the living wage. Staff are asking for a 1% consolidated pay rise, in line with pay rises being made across the public sector in Wales.

Courier Protest Photo

Photo – Tomos Nolan

This lack of any consolidated pay rise since 2009 has resulted in a real-terms pay drop of 20% in the value of wages, and left 25% of staff earning less than £15,000 per annum.

Already the three lowest pay bands at the National Library earn below the living wage, and when the living wage goes up this November, 25% of library staff will be left below the living wage, at a time when West Wales has recently been labelled as the poorest region in Northern Europe.
In February 2014 senior library staff were forced to withdraw a 10% pay rise which they had attempted to award themselves, after significant protest from staff and trades unions. Despite this, library staff have been told that the library is unable to consider a consolidated pay rise until it receives its annual budget from the Welsh Assembly in October.

The three unions on strike had exceedingly high turnout in their votes for strike action, which those on the picket lines said represented the strength of feeling among library staff. Prospect union, which has not gone on strike since 1981, recorded a 73% turnout and 94% vote in favour of industrial action. PCS had an 83% turnout with 96% in favour of striking, and FDA recorded a 100% turnout and 100% in favour of strike action.

Alun Williams, Aberystwyth County Councillor, told The Courier that he had “full sympathy” with those on strike, stating that “Evidently there is a great deal of unhappiness amongst staff and senior management is clearly not addressing that unhappiness. From an outsider’s perspective the wage differentials seem far too wide.”

Photo - Tomos Nolan

Photo – Tomos Nolan

Union representatives said that they considered strike action a last resort, stating that: “We’re librarians, not radicals, but our members are struggling to pay their bills.”

Prospect union representative Rob Phillips stated that the unions had attempted to work with the library for the past five years, but that the attempt by management to secretly award themselves a 10% pay rise had “broken the understanding that we’re all in it together.” He also added that the library have been claiming that they “might” be able to offer a consolidated pay rise to staff every year for the past five years and that staff did not believe that they really meant it.

Another Prospect representative added that in the eleven years he had worked at the library, they had only received a pay rise in line with inflation on one occasion, meaning that their pay has been falling continuously for eleven years. He stated that the offer of a one-off 3% pay award had been rejected because it set staff back at “square one with regards to a consolidated pay rise every year”, and also had no bearing on pensions as a consolidated pay rise would.

Striking union members said that they felt “morale at the library is really low” and “staff are rapidly losing confidence in the management,” with the attempt by management to award themselves a 10% pay rise described as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. Staff also claimed that there have been voluntary redundancies made which have led to experienced and managerial-level staff leaving for better-paid positions elsewhere.

Public support for the strike was overwhelming, with almost every car driving past the various picket lines tooting their horns in support and supporters bringing the strikers hot drinks and food. The rally in town, which the strikers marched down Penglais hill to, was well attended by members of the public, and prospective Plaid Cymru MP Mike Parker was also in attendance.

Doug Jones, PCS Union representative, spoke to The Courier after the rally and stated that:

“Wages at the National Library are in crisis. Library staff are finding it increasingly difficult to pay their bills and maintain a decent standard of living.”

Photo - Tomos Nolan

Photo – Tomos Nolan

Jane Lancastle, Negotiations Executive for Prospect Union, told The Courier that:

“We recognise and understand that these are difficult times, but we’re asking the library to give the 1% pay rises that the Treasury are saying to. We’re asking Aled to be a responsible leader and manage his budget properly and pay the living wage. More women than men don’t receive the living wage in the library, and the pay offer in February was refused as it didn’t pay the living wage and disproportionately affected women.”

Lyn Lewis Dafis, Chair of Prospect for Welsh Heritage, added that:

“What worries me greatly is the effect on the future of the library, with the type and calibre of staff the library can recruit on these wages. When people who’ve been there for twenty years leave, their knowledge goes with them. The management find it difficult to communicate with staff and especially with the trades unions. I understand it is difficult and we want to support and work with the library, but they have to work with us too.”

The library said it was disappointed that its offer of a 3% pay award had been rejected. Aled Gruffydd Jones, Chief Executive and Librarian stated that:

“The Library has already offered all staff a pay award of 3% together with an additional sum to employees on low wages, back dated to April 2013, placing the organisation in a position to meet the Welsh Government’s Living Wage target by April 2015. It is therefore disappointing that the Unions have refused this offer. However, the Library will continue with its intention to implement the Living Wage by April 2015.”

“The Union’s response to this offer has been premature. As part of the offer the Library has also committed itself to the possibility of offering a consolidated pay award as part of the 3% pay offer. The Library is only too aware of the concerns as regard to pay and that’s why implementing a consolidated pay award is high on our agenda. That is certainly our wish, but we must first of all ensure we have the resources in place to do it and that will become clearer on 30 September when the Welsh Government will publish its draft budget.”

Slideshow photos by Alex Tanton