College of Social Work suspends deal with Unison

The College of Social Work's decision to put its joint membership agreement with Unison on hold and restart talks with the British Association of Social Workers has been welcomed by Social Work Reform Board chair Moira Gibb (pictured).

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The College of Social Work has put its joint membership agreement with Unison on hold following concerns that public money was being used to unfairly promote the union, effectively creating a “closed shop” deal.

Under the original proposals, any social workers to join the College would have automatically become members of Unison, unless they opted out. This would have allowed the College to launch with Unison’s 40,000 social worker members at its base.

The College’s interim board said this would give it  financial independence when the government’s start-up funding of £5m ran out in April 2012.

But the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), which this year set up its own arm’s-length trade union, accused the College of using the £5m to encourage people to join Unison.

BASW took its concerns to the education select committee in November and, in turn, the committee’s chair, Graham Stuart MP, asked ministers to investigate.

Today, the College has announced that it will proceed without Unison. It will open its doors to members on 3 January as an independent college, charging social workers £60 per year to join.

The College proposes to allow its first full board, due to be elected in spring 2012, to decide on whether the offer of joint membership with Unison should be revisited.

A spokesperson for the College said: “Discussions continue with Unison under a joint statement of intent, which replaces the previous memoranda of understanding and ensures that clear boundaries and independence are maintained.”

Meanwhile, the College’s transition board has decided to table new proposals for talks with BASW. The two organsiations had been working towards a possible merger, but the negotiations broke down in September this year over the Unison deal.

Hilton Dawson, chief executive of BASW, said: “Our position remains unchanged; we do not believe the College of Social Work should be launching without BASW. As the College well knows, BASW has been seeking to re-establish talks since they were unilaterally broken off in September.

“These talks are vital in establishing a college that is independent, sustainable and accountable to social workers, wherein BASW will play a central part. It is essential that the College demonstrates good faith by communicating directly with BASW and by postponing any launch until those talks have taken place.”

Moira Gibb, chair of the Social Work Reform Board (pictured above), said: “I am very pleased the College has listened to the helpful feedback it received from the education select committee and others concerning its relationship with Unison, and that it has reiterated its desire for further talks with BASW in the New Year.

“This clears the way for the College to formally launch in January and I believe the whole social work profession can now unite behind it to address the many opportunities and challenges we face in the months and years ahead.”

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