Greenwich Council’s libraries were transferred to leisure provider GLL yesterday, but the dispute over the move continues. Strike action yesterday and today was cancelled by the Unite union after a legal threat from GLL, although Unite says 11 out of the borough’s 13 libraries were closed during the last two days of their management by the council.

Now Unite is now planning a protest march from the Eltham Centre to Woolwich on Saturday (5 May, 11.30am) and is talking to lawyers about the legality of the transfer. Last week, GLL’s managing director Mark Sesnan posted his side of the story, now he responds to some of the comments his piece raised.

Dear 853

Not being an avid reader of 853 (or any other Blogs actually – sorry Darryl!), I was not aware that your commenters were waiting with baited breath for me to respond. Now I know, I am of course happy to. However I must state that it is disappointing that virtually none of the blogs discuss what is the real key issue here, the Library service itself. It would be good to think that people were interested
in the future of Libraries as well as the staff. It would also be good if there was a realistic discussion
about what the actual options for public services are in the climate of massive funding cuts.

Anyway, let the nasty oppressive GLL respond to the questions:

GLL’s definition of ‘worker controlled’ and the definition of a ‘staff owned cooperative’.

The only people who have a ‘share’ in the charitable IPS are staff and it is one person one share one vote (I only have one share the same as any front line member of staff). The staff elect the Board (which is majority staff), the Board runs the business. We are a member of Coops UK and we were set up by the Greenwich Coops Development Agency (GCDA).

All GLL employment policies are approved by the staff led Board, but rates of pay are recommended by an independent remuneration committee.

Crucially, if the staff are not happy with any GLL policy they can unseat the board members or overrule any decision at an Extraordinary general meeting.

GLL’s use of Casual Staff

The leisure centre business is highly seasonable and employs a wide range of staff in many different jobs. This includes dance instructors who work only one or two hours a week, students who work evenings and weekends, sports coaches, bar staff, sales staff etc. Typically, more than half the staff will not be on full time contracts and usually this is because it suits them, as well as us.

If casual staff want to go full time with us, then they can apply for these jobs as they come up. Most of our full time staff come through this route, often though, staff prefer to be in charge of their own time and stay casual.

Diana Edmonds MBE

Diana is a respected and accomplished Library Manager, she was ‘head hunted’ by GLL. She turned Haringey’s public Library service from being one of London’s weakest, to being one of London’s best. She no longer has connections with Tribal (not for more than 10 years). I am not prepared to disclose her actual salary – out of politeness, but it is not outrageous.

My Salary

GLL will be a £120m business in 2012 and I will earn approximately £155,000. This salary was set by the independent remunerations committee after the committee had commissioned research into the ‘market rates’.

Ironically, my salary is very similar to Len McCluskey’s salary – Onay Kasab’s boss at Unite. Another interesting factoid is that I am a lifetime Unite member – although I have never seen any sign they are interested in my opinion!

The Use of anti union legislation to maintain public service

I very much regret that Unite have decided that closing libraries, particularly in the exam season, promotes their cause. I also do not like hearing that staff who did attend for work in Woolwich on Saturday felt ‘intimidated’.

Unite may not like the Law, but the law lays out when it is legal to strike and when it is not, all GLL did was point out to them that they have not followed the necessary steps to enable them to strike on our watch.

I hope the Union and the staff will use this breathing space to reconsider the benefit of closing the service and losing pay.

Public Debate

It was alleged that I got ‘cold feet’ when I was invited to a public meeting in Cooperatives week recently. It is true that I was asked not to attend at the last minute as the organisers did not wish the picket to disrupt what was supposed to be a celebration of Cooperatives in the Borough – I was quite happy to attend.

As regards a future public debate, if the topic is genuinely about the future of the Library service with a range of views represented, and there was no picketing, then I would be happy to take part.

I hope this answers most of the points raised.

The service has now transferred to GLL under contract for the next 15 years. I look forward to working with the Users and Staff to see how we can develop a first class service despite the adverse budgetary conditions.

Mark Sesnan

Your views, as ever, are welcome in the comments box below.

18 replies on “Greenwich libraries dispute – GLL chief Mark Sesnan responds”

  1. Thanks for the statement.

    If all is well with the world, why are the staff deliberately losing money by going on strike? As I’ve said before, going on strike is not an easy decision to take. Surely you must recognise there are genuine grievances here. Why are the striking staff wrong?

    Will you promise not the change their t&cs and that those of future employees will remain the same?

    What was the legal threat used against Unite?

    The last time I voted for strike action (about three months ago), management tried to pull all sorts of legal nonsense out of the hat. There are so many loopholes for management but none for those voting. Fortunately we were watertight (and won).

  2. Agree with Chris’s post: Mark Sesnan does not respond to any of the points raised in 853 posts about potential undermining of local government pay and conditions under TUPE regulations. I take that to mean this is, in fact, what will happen. Exactly what is this so-called “independent remuneration committee”? Who are they?

    Just like his so-called “co-operative” voting, the union members will have voted for industrial action, so serving some legal threat on them will just provide evidence to claims of heavy-handed tactics from new management. Was “dismissal” part of the threat?

    It is, of course, usual for employers to claim that unions close services when there is a strike as if everything would be hunky-dory if unions just put-up and shut-up, entirely missing the larger point about the need to reassure their new workforce. In this instance – I would presume he hasn’t reassured them because he can’t.

    And, by the way I question his statement that casual staff are in “control of their own time”: are they really??? Heard this kind of watery argument before. It hitches itself to the idea of work-life balance – but if this is truly something that Mark Sesnan thinks is needed and wanted, what’s wrong with negotiating flexible working, or fractional contracts that give these workers more rights…..oh yes, what Mark Sesnan might not like here is the mention of “rights”.

    Management is management in whatever guise – and just because he is a life time member of Unite doesn’t mean he can dismiss what look like well-founded fears of Unite members he now doesn’t agree with. Why is a union member? What does he think it means?

  3. GLL coaches, reception, lifeguards, catering ‘staff’ are all on casual contracts and don’t get to vote for the board. These people do a brilliant job dealing with the public for low pay. Administrators and managers are ‘members’ of this co-op and don’t even manage to respond to email concerns about access issues within acceptable times. Says it all really. Greenwich libraries are not the best in the world, but after talking to staff on the pickets I realise that the lack of for example, science books in most libraries, is essentially due to management priorities for ‘popularising’ the facilities, rather than providing balanced resources.Professional staff are already under pressure and I can’t see how GLL’s management style can do anything but make things worse.

  4. Ashleigh, I’ve let this comment through, but could you decide whether you’re posting as your real name or “therealdecoy” and stick with it, please? Check the comments policy. Thanks.

  5. We could say the same about your response Mr Sesnan… no words against how corrupt the transfering process was, how there was no meaningful public consultation, the protection of staff Ts&Cs.

    The difference between you and Len McCluskey is that he fights to protect worker’s rights and your company don’t. Unite have been nothing but supportive throughout this entire process.

    I have actually spoken to most of the staff after the strikes and asked them if they were ok and they said they were fine, and that they felt like they made the wrong decision and they won’t be doing it again.

    Your company is the one that needs to “reflect” – You’ve already started closing libraries. Poor old Ferrier was always a bit of a target, but you closed it without notice to the public or the staff. How do you explain that Mr Sesnan? Public consultation is needed to close any public service.

    It’s been transferred, but it’s just as easily reversed….

  6. Basically, I stopped reading this after the comment “Anyway, let the nasty oppressive GLL respond to the questions”. This is just puerile and sarcastic, and shows what contempt this man has for those with a legitimate grievance. The rest of his “answer” is just the usual corporate whitewash, by the looks of it.

  7. @ Clive.

    It reads more like a little rant at the Unite union. The thing is, from reading it you can tell he genuinely believes that GLL’s takeover of the library service is a good thing and is a little exasperated at being seen as “the bad guy”. Of course, time will tell if he is justified in that opinion.

  8. I’m sure that Hitler felt just as exasperated at all the bad press.

  9. It is indeed the case that our action closed 11 out of 13 libraries for two days. But the closure of Ferrier Library is permanent. The difference is I think obvious.

    I have now made a number of approaches first to the Council then to GLL to settle the dispute. I proposed a secondment arangement for staff, which was rejected by GLL, according to the Council. This would have avoided the strike action.

    It remains the case that the report to Cabinet made clear that an exercise would be undertaken to harmonise conditions. For our low paid library members this can only mean even lower pay. This is our concern as far as pay and conditions are concerned. GLL have already said that new staff will come in on poorer pay and conditions than current library staff. Yesterday Diana Edmonds, Head of GLL Library Division, gave staff vague promises that harmonisation would not happen for the 15 year life of the contract.

    In which case, let us come to an agreement.

    I have made this offer last night and this morning. The response from GLL HR was to hide behind the legal action and to imply that unless there is a further ballot, they will not talk. If this is what it takes then so be it. But if GLL take this bullish stance, lets then not hear anymore nonsense from Mark Sesnan about how regretfull it is that Unite take strike action. Let me also be clear on the legal position. In order to comply, according to GLL, we must run the process again. If this is what is necessary, than that is what we will do.

    We are prepared to take up the challenge to reach an agreement to settle this dispute. I repeat, if the offer of protection for the life of the contract is serious, let us meet and hammer out an agreement.

    I I am delighted that Mark has accepted the challenge of a public debate. Do GLL want to agree a date aand venue?

  10. @ Chris2: of course he believes it. He’s paid £155,000 a year to believe it, although his assertion that this is an approximate figure doesnt really inspire any confidence. Can he not put an exact figure on it? A quick glance at his last payslip should confirm things.

    So, when’s this meeting then? I’m first in the queue for a ticket please. We look forward to him not turning up again.

  11. So , Mr Sesnan won’t say how much he and Diana Edmonds are paid.
    Why not , I wonder ?
    Are the full accounts of GLL publically available ?

  12. Mr Sesnan contacted 853 blog last week , commencing with –
    ” Having read the recent blogs on the transfer…”
    and concluding –
    ” GLL is happy to respond to any questions…”

    He did not respond for a number of days , and then he did with –

    ” Not being an avid reader of 853…I was not aware that your commenters were waiting with baited breath for me to respond…”

    Now , rather than being happy to respond to any questions ,he is reluctant to disclose how much GLL pay himself and Diana Edmonds and/or if GLL accounts are available publicly

    Is there something inconsistent here ?

  13. So, when is this public meeting then? We are waiting “with bated breath” (not “baited” as the new head of our library system would have it.

  14. I have just requested information on GLL’s accounts via their web page.

    The manager of the Eltham Centre hasw now stopped replying to my emails about disability access for people like myself with multiple chemical sensitivity. Perhaps she is taking some time to research MCS from the web link I sent her, after she assured me that she completely understood my condition. Hopefully I’ll get a reply on this more straightforward matter without having to phone head office!


  15. Happy to say I’ve now heard back from GLL, with agreement that a changing room can be kept chemical-free while I’m swimming! What a relief!

  16. When is this debate!!! Although we have struck an agreement with GLL over Ts&Cs there is still the issue of public consultation, the closure of Ferrier library, the secrecy and lies told to the staff while the contract was tendering. Should be interesting watching Mr Sesnan and the council digging themselves an even bigger hole over these issues! 🙂

  17. GLL?? Currently of great interest to me as they may be running a contract locally. Things don’t look promising from reading this blog at all with regards to the TUPE process and general goodwill.
    How do I get in touch with some of you guys to discuss your experiences in details?

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