22 Mar 2017

Auckland librarians fear long commutes in overhaul

5:50 am on 22 March 2017

Some Auckland Libraries staff fear they could be forced to travel large distances to work at other branches under restructuring plans proposed by Auckland Council.

Auckland city public library

Auckland City Library Photo: Google Maps

The council wants permanent staff to rotate around libraries within their local board area to cover staff who are sick or taking annual leave, but some employees could end up travelling even further afield.

The overhaul of Auckland Libraries resulted in 74 staff taking voluntary redundancy last week.

Casual positions at community libraries could also be replaced with newly-created permanent part-time roles.

These employees would be required to work in libraries across a greater area. Auckland's 54 libraries would be divided into four clusters, with staff expected to travel within each cluster.

In an area like Rodney, staff could face an 80km commute between Wellsford and Kumeu libraries.

Auckland Libraries general manager Mirla Edmundson disputed claims some staff would have to travel a long way from home as "categorically untrue".

"We have been having positive and constructive conversations with the Public Service Association in relation to staff movement between library sites and the distance between their place of work and their homes," she said in a statement.

"We can also confirm that there will be little change to the way things are done now. There are clear requirements within the collective agreement that we currently adhere to and we will continue to adhere to."

Rodney Local Board chairperson Beth Houlbrooke said plans she had seen for Rodney showed only Warworth and Maharangi East libraries would share staff.

"I took that to understand that staff would only be shared between those two libraries, which is only a 10 to 15 minute drive from each other."

Library staff can currently claim travel costs if they earn less than $40,000. But library assistants employed for two years will this month be given a pay increase, taking them up to $40,500 - making most ineligible to claim those costs.

Public Service Association national secretary Glenn Barclay said the union's members were concerned about the proposal.

"Particularly those living in areas like Rodney and Franklin, because of the lack of public transport between libraries, transport costs and the time involved could be substantial," he said.

"They're looking at improving efficiency but our members are definitely concerned that it could undermine the quality of service."

The PSA had expressed its concerns to the council but it was yet to hear back about its final plan, Mr Barclay said.

"We're hopeful they will change it."

Auckland councillor Efeso Collins said he had not been given any information about how the rotation system might work in south Auckland, but he believed it would result in a poorer service for communities.

Local librarians who knew their communities were important in raising literacy levels, especially in high need areas like south Auckland, he said.

"We're not talking about mobile bank managers here," he said.

"If you're going to be throwing staff around everyone you're going to lose the ability to hone in and focus on the young people they're getting through their library."

Auckland Libraries will reveal its finalised restructuring plan in early April and the new structure is expected to be in place by July.