Members of Unite union working in Bromley Central Library are set to ballot today (April 30) for strike action, amid proposals from employer GLL to amend working hours.

The 17 staff will vote on a potential strike after proposals were made to increase the number of late shifts for both permanent and part-time staff.

It is understood that under the new proposals, staff would be expected to work four late nights every two weeks - a rise from the current one late shift every two weeks.

Part time staff are understood to have been asked to work one late night a fortnight, but currently do not work late shifts.

Unite said that the late nights plans, which only involve staff at Bromley Central Library, come following a reduction in staffing – so it will mean fewer staff to cover longer opening hours.

But a GLL spokesman branded Unite's actions as "premature", accusing the union of playing "political football" and suggesting the strike ballot was timed to cause "maximum aggravation to customers".

Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “We, of course, want libraries to be open for as many hours as possible – but this has to come with sufficient staffing levels.

Read more: Bromley library workers end mammoth eight-month strike

“GLL has previous ‘form’ on attacking library staff’s terms and conditions as witnessed by the eight-month strike across all Bromley’s libraries that was settled in January last year.

“Fewer staff with longer opening hours does not add up. This shows how right we were to take strike action previously to defend jobs.

“While our action between June 2019 and January 2020 prevented compulsory redundancies, vacancies have not been filled as they should have been.

“GLL has never hidden the fact that its operating model is to win contracts by bidding cheap then make savings through so-called restructuring."

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The previous industrial action saw 50 library staff from across Bromley's 14 libraries walk out during an eight-month dispute about pay and staff structuring.

“We believe that libraries will be more vital than ever coming out of lockdown as the vast array of services offered, not just books but access to IT, information, assistance with forms, group events and social interaction, will be incredibly important for communities", Mr Kasab added.

“If GLL cannot afford to staff services, it is time for the service to be returned to local authority control – which has always been Unite’s position.”

A Spokesperson for GLL responded:

“We are very disappointed that Unite have chosen to ballot Bromley Central Library Staff on strike action just as we are rebuilding the service as we emerge from COVID.

“The union has been aware of these temporary proposals for over 4 months. All we are asking is that as a convenience to customers, staff each work until an hour later in the evening on two days per week, and if they can’t, that we agree a workaround to meet individual needs. We are still in consultation with all staff and feel that this action is premature. Following their agreement to new working arrangements in January 2020, it looks like Unite’s timing is intended to cause maximum aggravation to customers.

Read more: Bromley library saga rumbles on as workers strike gets MP backing

“We don’t believe customers should be used as a political football so we will do whatever we can to keep our library services open. Good industrial relations are important and valued by GLL – but if ever there was a reason to strike, this is not it.

“Despite the challenges we have all faced in the last year, we have kept library staff on full pay and guaranteed their entitlements – all to reflect the valuable public service they provide.

“The library service was transferred to GLL in 2017. We understand that there is always a period of adjustment but four years later it seems that GLL is still being attacked by Unite on an ongoing basis.

“It is time to put the libraries and their customers first and all we ask of Unite is to work with us to allow us to provide an excellent public library service.“

The ballot is set to close on Friday, May 14.

A Bromley Council spokesman added: "We completely endorse GLL’s thoughts and comments on the matter."