The row over the creation of the College of Social Work deepened today as the British Association of Social Workers was accused of “unethical” and “unprincipled” behaviour by Allan Bowman, the chair of the Social Care Institute for Excellence.
At a meeting of the Education Select Committee, Bowman said that BASW had hampered talks by creating a union of its own and asking its members whether it should create a professional body of its own. He told MPs on the committee that the launch of the College should go ahead in January without the involvement of BASW, but added that he hoped they would sign up in the future.
But Hilton Dawson, the chief executive of BASW, said the College had misled ministers by claiming that it was working hard with BASW. He said this was not true because the College had not provided full information about its memorandum of understanding with Unison, which would see social workers who joined the College automatically become members of Unison unless they chose to opt out.
MPs also questioned College interim chair Maurice Bates at the meeting, and Unison’s Helga Pile about the union’s agreement. One MP said the deal could compromise the independence of the College and said it smacked of a “closed shop” arrangement for social workers.
Bates denied this: “It’s not a closed shop in any shape or form. The reason we agreed a contract with Unison is because they have 43,000 members and we want to build members. It’s not true that people have to be members of Unison if they join the College, they can opt out.”
He added that the independence of the College would be ensured because the professional body’s board would be elected by its members, but he conceded that the default assumption was that those who joined the College would become Unison members.
MPs also quizzed Bates and Pile on how the College’s £270 membership fee would be spilt between the union and the professional body. Pile said negotiations were underway but the two organisations were looking at a 50-50 spilt. She added that Unison aimed for 80% of social workers to join it.
In response to the committee’s questions, Bates said the College would make the full memorandum of understanding between it and Unison public within 24 hours. He added that it was a commercial deal that would be reviewed after 12 months and that the College was setting up a trade union forum involving all unions that would meet early next year.
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