Big support shown for library workers’ pay and conditions campaign

July 8, 2021
July 2 protest for better pay and conditions for librarians. Photo: Sarah Hathway

Geelong Library and Heritage Centre workers walked off the job on July 2 as part of a rolling campaign of protected industrial action for better pay and conditions.

The strike atmosphere was festive, with solidarity being a key theme. It was supported by passionate unionists who chanted, clapped and cheered the striking workers. The self-proclaimed best Irish band in Geelong provided music and there was a free sausage sizzle and drinks.

Despite a prolonged bargaining period, management is yet to make an offer of acceptable wages and conditions.

Local and wider union and activist support was shown by Australian Service Union (ASU) members, delegates and officials, Geelong Trades Hall Council, Victoria Trades Hall Council, Barwon Voices (We Are Union) and unionists and officials from the Australian Midwives and Nurses Federation, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, Maritime Workers Union, Retail and Fast Food Workers Union, Independent Education Union, United Workers Union, Australian Education Union, Plumbing and Pipe Trades Employees Union and Electrical Trades Union.

Speakers included library workers ASU Branch Secretary Lisa Darmanin, Geelong Trades Hall Council President and ASU member Adele Welsh, former Secretary of Geelong Trades Hall and CFMMEU shop steward Tim Gooden and Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association organiser Sarah Hathway.

Many others also took to the open microphone to voice their support for the library workers.

Despite a prolonged bargaining period, management is yet to make an offer of acceptable wages and conditions.

Most library workers in this regional city are women who earn less than $35,000 a year. Most of their wages are almost 20% below Melbourne libraries and are lower than most regional libraries.

They also want a variety of shift and penalty rates and improvements to basic safety, including having all libraries staffed by two people and a permanent security presence at the main library.

Management has only made a minimal pay offer, claiming that it is generous given the economic difficulties. The union said it has not taken up workers’ safety concerns, although it has offered to provide a minimum shift length of two hours and to give venue hire staff penalty rates after 11pm.

Meanwhile, it has been docking workers’ pay for undertaking work-to-rule protected actions which the union is angry about.

The strike highlighted the inherent injustice in the widespread practise of undervaluing and underpaying of female-dominated industries.

Geelong Regional Library Corporation has consistently been ranked as one of the best public libraries in Victoria. Yet its workers receive the fourth worst pay in the state: from 49 public libraries, it ranks 45.

Apart from being book and magazine loans, toddler story time and sessions with authors, modern libraries offer a variety of services including: IT access and classes, printing and scanning, 24-hour WiFihotspotting, home delivery service for vulnerable community members, room and venue hire, workshops on a wide variety of topics and book clubs.

The library is one of the few remaining free public services accessible to the public regardless of income, employment status and ability.

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