South London library workers are protesting against their employer, claiming the contractor has “refused” to negotiate over pay.

Unite workers’ union members working in libraries in Bromley and Greenwich staged a protest outside the Eltham Centre on December 21 against the service provider, Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL).

The demonstration comes after Unite claimed this week that library workers for GLL were experiencing “very low” rates of pay.

They said in a statement on December 19 that some staff were being paid as low as £12.10 an hour.

The real London living wage currently stands at £13.15 an hour.

This Is Local London: Eltham Library is based in the Eltham CentreEltham Library is based in the Eltham Centre

The union also criticised the five per cent pay rise that GLL workers saw this year and claimed it had refused to implement an acceptable occupational sick pay scheme, which GLL has refuted.

Unite regional officer Mary Summers told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) at the protest: “It’s very difficult to ensure that everyone gets five per cent, it doesn’t work out that way.

"And obviously five per cent at the rate of inflation at the moment, which is 11 per cent, doesn’t go even near the cost of living. So we’re saying that our workers deserve more.”

She added: “If the libraries service in Greenwich and Bromley were actually in house still, they would be on better pay and conditions than GLL staff.

"We’re saying we want parity with that, which obviously affects pay but also their sickness.”

Ms Summers said the union had been involved in previous meetings with GLL but claimed the social enterprise was not prepared to negotiate on pay rises.

However, she said the contractor was looking into taking steps to improve its sickness policy for staff.

The union said in a statement last week that 70 library workers for GLL in Greenwich borough had agreed to strike in the new year, which would lead to widespread closures of libraries across the borough.

A GLL spokesperson told the LDRS: “We are extremely disappointed by Unite’s decision to call for strike action amongst GLL library staff working within the Royal Borough of Greenwich. We have made every effort to engage with the union, listen to their views and avert a strike.”

The spokesperson said Unite was proud to be an accredited Real Living Wage employer.

They said staff received a pay award value of five per cent this year and up to 12 per cent for colleagues at the lower end of their pay scales.

They said the social enterprise invited Unite to complete a pay submission for 2024 to use for consideration on plans for next year, but that a submission was not received.

They said: “We have advised Unite that our sick pay scheme, which we consider to be generous in terms of length and quality of support, is under review and we will report back on this in 2024.

"We again invited Unite to meet and clarify what would make a sick pay scheme acceptable to them. Unite did not meet us, nor did they submit a proposal.”

The spokesperson said all staff had the choice between permanent contracts or choosing when to work.

They said staff transferred from local government always have the option of retaining their original employment contracts, though most choose not to do so.

They added: “We again invite Unite to engage with us in order to find a positive pathway forward that will avert this unnecessary walk out.

"A strike will impact many of the most disadvantaged amongst the local community who rely on their local library for crucial services such as internet access, free school meals, social interaction and a welcoming ‘warm space’ when domestic utility bills become unaffordable.”