A gap to bridge

The battle over social workers’ pay is under way. Philip
Whiteley reports.

After a longer pause than usual, national negotiations for local
government pay are back. The first meeting took place last

Rapid agreement is unlikely, given the daylight between the
respective positions of management and unions. Unison wants a
£1,000 flat-rate increase which would average at 6.9 per cent
for professional staff.

The Local Government Management Board, which represents the
employers’ side, has yet to make an offer, but has warned of job
cuts if increases are more than 2 per cent.

The last deal, settled in October 1994, gave social workers an
average 4.5 per cent for the 21 months ending 1 April this

Unison claims that social workers have lost ground in recent
years, and that it is time to catch up. It also wants a local
government minimum of £4.15 an hour.

‘We have three objectives: to eliminate low pay, so we need a
major cash injection to do that; we want to keep in line with
inflation; and we want to restore local government pay, which has
been slipping behind,’ said John Findlay, social services
spokesperson for Unison.

But the LGMB denies that social workers have fared less well
than similar professions.

‘According to a recent government survey on pay, social workers’
pay has kept pace with others,’ said a spokesperson for the

He added that, while professional staff rates increased by 4.5
per cent in the 21-month period, take-home pay went up by 7.1 per
cent, due to regradings.

The LGMB’s calculation is that Unison’s claim would add
£630 million to local authority spending. ‘That’s 43,000
full-time jobs at average salary level,’ the spokesperson said.

‘At the lowest level, Unison’s claim would represent a 12.2 per
cent increase in pay, and that’s where we’re most vulnerable to
competition [from the independent sector]. That’s why it’s a

Unison accepted the increase in private sector activity is an
issue to be addressed, but Findlay said that rates should be
increased there, rather than cut in statutory agencies. The union
is seeking to improve representation in the private sector, he

Unison also accepts the difficulties budgetary pressures bring.
But Findlay added: ‘If the employers were told by government to
give us no pay increase, we would still see job losses, because the
government would just further clamp down on local government

One area of agreement between the two sides is scrapping the
white collar/ blue collar distinction. It is hoped that this will
be achieved in time for the 1997 pay discussions.

One anomaly under the present divide, said Findlay, was the
position of care assistants, who are classified as manual

‘A senior care assistant is probably getting the same as a basic
grade clerical worker. We think there’s something wrong there,’ he

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