Thousands of social care workers have vowed to follow up their 48-hour walk-out in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with a “sustained and escalating” strike programme this summer.
The estimated half a million council workers from Unison and Unite – including at least 40,000 social care workers – who went on strike last week could join forces with teachers and civil servants in a mass protest over public services pay in September.
Leaders hope to form alliances with the Public and Commercial Services Union and National Union of Teachers, which represent 543,000 professionals in total.
A spokesperson for Unison said its negotiating body would meet today to evaluate last week’s strike and discuss the potential for further industrial action.
Claims from Unison’s general secretary, Dave Prentis, that councils are sitting on £3bn of reserves, have raised the temperature in the dispute. Services face further shut-downs this summer if employers fail to increase their original offer of a 2.45% pay increase. Unison and Unite are asking for an increase of 6% or 50p an hour.
But council bosses are showing no signs of backing down. Local Government Employers said it was willing to discuss future employment terms of the workforce, but claimed “there is no more money in the pot for this year’s pay settlement”.
The turn-out by social care staff last week exceeded branch leaders’ expectations, with the north east region reporting the highest known turn-out of 13,000 practitioners.
Senior activists spoke at rallies across the UK last week. In London, 1,000 members of Unison and Unite joined the strike. Phoebe Watkins, adult social care convener for Unison’s Camden branch, said: “The general consensus was that we’re all suffering over pay, and the best way forward is to join together.”
Life and limb
Many members were asked to run “life-and-limb” services which were exempt from the strike action, but some areas, particularly in the north east and Yorkshire, said social care services were brought “to a standstill”.
Ian Barber, Unison’s head of local government in the eastern region, said: “Our social care members carry out vital jobs but they’re not being treated with the respect or recognition they deserve.”