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Council social workers back industrial action over proposal to slash sick pay

As well as proposed short-term changes to staff terms and conditions, Northamptonshire council has warned that it may have to introduce four days’ mandatory unpaid leave in the future, to counter shortfalls in its budget.

Photo credit: Image Broker/Rex Features
Photo credit: Image Broker/Rex Features

Social workers in Northamptonshire are gearing up to take industrial action over proposals to slash their sick pay.

Northamptonshire council is proposing to change its staff terms and conditions on 1 April; under the new contracts, it will refuse sick pay for the first three days of any block of absence and halve long-term sick pay entitlement. The current entitlement is six months on full pay and six on half pay.

The changes would also give managers the power to send social workers home if they believe they are too ill to work, instead of letting staff decide for themselves.

Unison will formally reject the new terms and conditions this week, after a  consultative ballot of its 1,800 council members showed 98% opposed the plans.

Members also voted 89% in favour of industrial action. A formal ballot on this is expected within weeks.

Steve Bennett, Unison’s Northamptonshire branch secretary, said it was likely social workers would work to rule, rather than going on strike. “At the moment the council is relying on the goodwill of social workers, who take work home with them and work extra hours,” he said.

Other forms of action may include social workers using public transport instead of their own cars.

A Northamptonshire council spokeswoman said: “There are no easy answers to the financial challenges we are facing, but these changes represent the best balance between reducing costs and protecting services and jobs.

“We received a number of views during the consultation and negotiation process that took place over the last six months and we did negotiate and change our proposals following the feedback from the trade unions and employees, but unfortunately there is no avoiding the need to reduce our employment costs.”

She added that there would be exceptions to the halving of long-term sick pay to just 12 weeks of full pay and 12 weeks of half pay. This includes those with maternity related absences, with a recognised disability and “discretions for terminal illnesses”.

Other changes the council is looking bring in include opting out of national pay negotiations and freezing performance related pay for two of the next four years. It also wants to introduce four days’ mandatory unpaid leave “if ever required for a serious budget shortfall.”

The spokeswoman added: “Whilst we do not envisage this happening in the short-term, it might become necessary in future years if economic conditions do not improve.”

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