Trade dispute at centre of library service cuts

It’s a new year, but the old issue of government cutbacks continues to affect Library services. Trinity students and staff alike are facing a significantly reduced service and staff shortages as Hilary Term commences. Worker unions are particularly unhappy with the situation, and Library employees are involved in a long running dispute with Trinity over semesterisation working hours, according to SIPTU representative Dr. Jack McGinley.
The government embargo on recruitment in the public sector has led to the non-filling of 11 full-time posts among the Library staff, including a blanket ban on all promotions. As a result Library facilities have been significantly reduced.
In an email to the student body last week, Deputy Librarian Jessie Kurtz announced cutbacks in Counter Services, Inter-Library Loans, Santry delivery and Early Printed Books. Students are now faced with the earlier closing times of the Library Counter at 8pm on Fridays, 3.45pm on Saturdays, and no service at all on Sundays.
The 30pc reduction in staff members has led a Library spokesman to say they feel “unfairly punished” by the measures.
Staff are currently embroiled in a conflict with the College over working hours. Library employees represented by SIPTU are concerned with the semesterisation of term durations, which recently led to a number of staff being sent home. Staff who normally worked 9-5 hour shifts were required by senior Library management to work an evening duty shift, without prior trade union agreement. In an email sent to SIPTU Library staff members, Librarian and College Archivist Mr Robin Adams says, “Any action contrary to the above direction will be viewed as industrial action, with the inherent associated consequences”.
On 4-7 January, SIPTU staff members who were included on a rostered week with which they had not agreed presented themselves to work 9-5. They were sent home and advised to report back at 3.30pm. SIPTU representative Dr Jack McGinley says this has led to Library staff working “unsocial working hours”, many of whom found Adams’ email “threatening”.
“Many staff members viewed the conduct of management on the issue as the lowest nadir of the University’s colourful industrial relations industry”, says McGinley, who is Supervisor of Campus Bookstacks. McGinley points that there is currently no agreement between Trinity and SIPTU over the 2010/2011 Academic Year, and that “the likelihood of the matter continuing, unresolved, into a another academic year is not as far fetched as it seems”.
Library staff were among the 250,000 workers taking part in industrial action last November, bringing College services to a halt. Following talks with the Government, a further strike was deferred “in light of the progress that has been made in negotiations”, according to union representative Peter McLoone.
Cuts in Library services have come as a blow to the Students’ Union, which organised a Library sit-in last term protesting against a 38% cut in the book-buying budget. The protest also campaigned for opening hours on a par with the national average.
“Trinity has the joint second lowest opening hours in the country with NUI Maynooth at 71.5 hours” says Union President Conan O’Broin, who points out to Trinity News that “the Student’s Union has attempted to meet with the Deputy Librarian twice and the Vice Provost- tipped as the next Provost- but meeting has been repeatedly postponed”.
The College insists that its Sunday opening hours were contingent on a “temporary basis”. Despite operating extended hours preceding the Foundation Scholarship examinations, the Library remains closed on Sundays.
Issued in March by the Minister for Finance, the Recruitment Moratorium and freeze on public sector pay has affected staff across the board. The measures were introduced in an attempt to reduce the public sector pay bill, which currently accounts for 36pc of the Irish economy.
SIPTU representative Jack McGinley on the staff dispute: Opinion, P 16