BASW votes to explore trade union tie-ups

The British Association of Social Workers has voted to hold talks with trade unions about possible affiliations.

Members agreed yesterday to approach unions to enquire about creating links allowing joint membership of both BASW and a trade union.

At the association’s AGM in Birmingham, BASW chair Ronnie Barnes said, although the association had 11,000 members, “there is still a potential membership we’re not reaching”.

Barnes admitted any increase in subscription fees could be a deterrent, especially for newly-qualified practitioners facing debt. But he said there would be “extended benefits” of creating a partnership with organisations such as Unison, which represents 40,000 social workers in the UK.

Members were enthusiastic about the potential for collective bargaining on working conditions and stronger representation rights, although some feared a weakening of the association’s values.

Jane Lindsay, advice and representation officer for BASW in Scotland, said: “I’m for this motion but with caution. We need to promote our values, and any smaller organisation joining a larger organisation is usually swallowed up.”

She said that although BASW represents its members in 90% of disputes, some employers insisted on refusing entry to the association in negotiations. Legally, only trade unions are granted access.

“Joining with Unison would allow us to enter the chamber every time,” she said.

Julian Levitt, of BASW’s Black Country branch, voted for the motion but said: “My primary concern is what happens when our views oppose the stance taken by the trade unions.”

The British Association of Occupational Therapists launched an affiliation with Unison in 1993.

The association’s chief executive, Julia Scott, told BASW’s conference that the partnership had produced “positive” results.

The main advantage was a greater “opportunity to be heard”, while Unison’s representation service in employment disputes was “very comprehensive”.

However, Scott said there was a lack of transparency in expenditure allocated to BAOT members, and some Unison stewards showed a poor understanding of issues relating to occupational therapists.

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