Staff threat to new hours for libraries

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RADICAL plans to open libraries across Edinburgh every Saturday and Sunday afternoon for the first time could be scuppered by staff reluctant to give up their weekends.

Six libraries are due to have extended opening hours from October following the success of a six-week pilot project at three sites last year.

But the city council, which has pledged to spend around 250,000 annually making it a permanent move, is being warned some librarians would rather quit than work extra hours.

Union leaders have declared they will ballot the entire 350-strong workforce in the libraries section to see if they are in favour of the move.

Their backing could hinge on whether any extra money is offered to staff to work at weekends.

Negotiations between public sector union Unison and council officials on the subject have yet to be resolved. Edinburgh would become only the second local authority in Scotland, following Glasgow, to open on Sundays if the move is implemented.

Around 4400 people flocked to libraries in Portobello, Muirhouse and Oxgangs during the trial period, with 90 per cent of visitors saying they would be in favour of extended hours. Edinburgh’s libraries are normally only open at weekends from 9am to 1pm on Saturdays.

A council spokesman said: "We’re currently in the process of identifying the six libraries that will bring greatest benefit to the public from extended weekend opening hours and holding discussions with unions regarding staffing arrangements."

However, John Ross, service conditions convener with Unison, said the union was "not yet sold" on weekend opening.

He said: "The staff who work in these libraries, who are predominantly female, deserve their time off at the weekend to spend with their families.

"These are people who have never had to work at these times previously.

"It’s fair to say a lot of the staff are worried about this being introduced as new contracts will have to be drawn up .

"Negotiations are still ongoing but whatever is decided there’s still going to be a ballot. There’s no extra money on the table just now but the basic entitlement for weekend work is time-and-a-half for Saturday and double time for Sunday shifts. We’d be firmly opposed to any reduction of that, but in any case, money isn’t the issue for a lot of the people ."

However, Steve Cardownie, the recreation chief under the previous Labour administration which agreed the move, insisted the extended opening would be brought in as promised.

He said: "I know in Glasgow they have staff from their libraries service who volunteer to work on Saturdays and down south they have part-time workers .

"We appreciate some staff are concerned about this, but the public have made it absolutely clear to us what they think about weekend opening and many council staff already work at weekends.

"There’s been huge support for it and, at the end of the day, we’ll have to find a way of ensuring that it happens."

Councillor Jenny Dawe, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the council, said: "We’re broadly in favour of weekend opening, particularly on Sundays, which appears to suit people better .

"Obviously some people might not be too happy about working extra hours, but I’m sure the library service will be able to find people willing to work at these times."