A strike has been averted in local government. Last week, Unison joined the GMB and Unite in accepting a 2.475% pay offer.
But few believe this uneasy truce will last long. Local government pay has been struggling to keep pace with inflation and that will continue with a yearly 2% pay growth target until 2011. The threat of strike action will overshadow pay negotiations for the foreseeable future.
It presents a significant challenge to morale among social workers, and could damage recruitment and retention.
Great strides have been made towards improving the strength of the profession, with a dedicated degree and recognition that entrants need more support.
But, with unimpressive pay increases, more has to be done to improve recruitment and job satisfaction. For a start, the scarcity of practice placements revealed by Community Care earlier this year has to be addressed. In addition, the ongoing work on defining the role of social workers has to demonstrate to policy-makers how reducing paper work and maximising client time would improve outcomes.
Then there’s the need for more local discretion over terms and conditions of employment. Councils should be able to offer their staff more flexible work hours and benefits that promote choice and support their lifestyles.
Recruitment and retention aren’t just about pay. If the profession is to continue raising its status, its leaders, both locally and nationally, must campaign for more attractive and effective social work.
Local government pay and industrial action: Unison settles but there’s trouble in store
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This article appeared in the 8 November issue under the headline “Pay and satisfaction”