Over 800 people have signed an online petition calling for the council to stop planned job cuts across libraries in the borough.
The petition, organised by Hackney Unison, has reached its initial goal of 750 signatures – the number needed to be considered by the full council at Hackney Town Hall. They are now seeking an additional 250 supporters.
Matt Paul, one of the two branch secretaries at Hackney Unison, said: “We are complaining on behalf of all the library staff, not just our own union members. Close to a hundred or just over a hundred staff are affected by these plans.”
The planned cuts come as the council is considering different ways to save £300,000 in 2023/24. It spends £5.6m a year on its library services, with £3m in staffing costs.
If agreed at the cabinet meeting in November, Hackney will scrap 76 full-time equivalent jobs, including eight duty manager roles, around 32 library assistants, and around 19 library supervisors. Part-time jobs, including weekend assistant roles, will also be affected.
Paul said: “They are going to cut quite a significant number of posts and also change the pay grade, which sounds good because people are getting more money, but you have to go through a recruitment or interview assessment process and there’s a fear that a lot of people might not make it through that as well.
“There are two elements in which people can be cut – there’s a compulsory, mandatory cut in the number of posts, but also not making it through this process.
“Effectively, almost all of the staff employed by the library service are affected – from library management level, which are the people dedicated on a site and managing a whole library, supervisors, library assistants, to relief staff, who are people that are effectively on zero-hours contract so they’re not guaranteed a number of hours a week.”
Brian Debus, the branch chair of Hackney Unison, said that the expenditure on relief staff has risen recently due to the increase in hours put in because of the restructuring. He said: “The number of hours put in by relief staff has more than doubled in the last four months. Earlier this year, it was less than 500 hours per month. Now, it’s over 1000 hours and that has almost become the norm.”
Debus explained that the number of hours put in by relief staff is the equivalent of eight full-time jobs and that this new structure is increasingly using relief staff to cover staff absences.
Hackney Unison also expressed concern over health and safety risks that may occur due to job cuts. A few serious incidents have occurred in Hackney libraries in recent months, including one in which a security guard was assaulted.
The library staff were able to put a stop to the assault, but Paul explained that this would not have been possible without sufficient staff.
Paul said: “We are really concerned as a trade union – our members are really concerned. Some of them have worked in this service for many, many years. In fact, the current head of the library service has worked here all her life – 52 years of service. You can see how dedicated the staff are to the service by how long they’ve worked here and they are concerned about the long-term future of the libraries.”
Hackney Unison will be holding protests at Hackney Town Hall on October 24, when the council’s Cabinet will be looking at the strategy documents for the library service and on November 23, the next full council meeting.