Council threatens legal action over social worker strike

Kirklees council told Unison it will face court battle unless 24-hour walk-out from social workers is called off

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Photo: Jeffery Titcomb/REX/Shutterstock

A council has threatened to take legal action against a union over strike action children’s social workers plan to take next week.

Kirklees council wrote to its local Unison branch to warn it would take “immediate steps” to secure a court injunction unless the union called off a one-day strike planned for 27 January.

The council set the union a deadline of 4pm yesterday. But the union refused to back down and today told Community Care the strike will go ahead as planned. The council has yet to set out its next move.

Social workers at the council want action on a series of issues including pay, caseloads, IT systems and high dependency on agency staff.

A ballot on industrial action was backed by 79% of 75 Unison members who voted. In its letter, the council claimed it was unable to find out how many staff were balloted, what level they worked at and where they worked and therefore the action was “unlawful”. But Unison replied that it had taken legal advice over the matter and would be going ahead with the strike.

Ratcheted up the dispute

Paul Holmes, branch secretary for Unison in Kirklees, said any move by the council to seek an injunction would be unprecedented among local authorities, adding: “I think it’s really ratcheted the dispute up”.

When news of the strike emerged, councillors in Kirklees accused the union of playing politics with a vital service and demanded an assessment of the risks the walk-out would pose to children.

Holmes said any suggestion the strike would place service users at extra risk was a “red herring”.

“We would provide emergency cover as we would on a Bank Holiday. There’s nobody saying that people are at risk on a Bank Holiday,” he said.

The dispute comes amid upheaval at Kirklees children’s services. The council’s director of children’s services quit last week after less than nine months in post. The authority has been under government intervention since being given an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating in November last year.

Kirklees council has been contacted for comment.

12 Responses to Council threatens legal action over social worker strike

  1. Longtime SW January 18, 2017 at 1:45 pm #

    Ironic – councillors ‘demanded an assessment of the risks the walk-out would pose to children’

    – would this be on top of all the other assessments that SW’s carry out in their day-to-day role?

    – methinks the councillors are scared as they are legally responsible as Corporate Parents for any LAC and answerable to the DoE

    And which councillors, if any, will take over the case loads of strikers? Are you going to sack them because they are highlighting deficiencies in pay, caseloads, IT, (extra) cost of using agency colleagues?

    BTW – It would be illegal for any councillor to carry out SW tasks unless a registered SW – how would you get out of that one?

  2. Longtime SW January 18, 2017 at 1:46 pm #

    Sorry – that should have been DoEd

  3. Bernard Toland January 18, 2017 at 2:21 pm #

    Rather than escalating the dispute and going to all the time and expense of a legal challenge to the legitimacy of hard pressed social workers to withdraw their labour in the face of intolerable pressures, why dont elected members invest their time and council tax payers money into a more productive reponse like oh… I dont know… sitting around the table with the unions and developing an agreed way forward. I appreciate that this is a novel approach but it might be worth giving it a whirl.

  4. Stuart January 18, 2017 at 7:22 pm #

    Councillors should demand an asssessment of the risks they themselves pose by not listening & responding more constructively to the concerns their staff have consistently tried to raise.

  5. julian spurr January 18, 2017 at 10:57 pm #

    Sadly this is typical of the whole problem facing local government.

    Don’t blame the cause of all this unrest on those who are responsible for this fiasco.

    Go for the workers as they are a much easier target. I salute the brave move of the Kiirklees social workers.

  6. Rumplestiltskin January 18, 2017 at 11:19 pm #

    Hmmmm let’s re write the political definition of social work… The Politicaly and publicly whipped profession that has been disempowered by systematic failures, lack of appropriate nvestment by successive politicians on a local and national level. A profession where; despite having the best intentions to care for the most vulnerable in society, some of those people who hold politically neutral positions in senior management are in danger of losing touch with the core values of social work as they have to answer to council members and politicians who will do anything they can to hold onto power at the expense of social workers welfare, job conditions, stress and emotional well being.

    It’s actually about time that the unions themselves really earn their keep; across the country and call a national ballot for strike action….I for one would support such a strike..if I could be bothered to stop wasting time, typing on forums whilst drinking tea, in front of my TV..but then again it is too cold outside to strike at this time of year..and I also have bills to pay after Christmas, especially as I am now trapped in the capitalist system and have a mortgage oh and I might also be taken down the capabilities route if I am off work for a strike and miss some stat visits…O.M.G what can we do….oh I know..I will type another angry message on community care as a mark of collective solidarity towards my fellow social workers who have the ‘balls’ to actually go on strike.

    Good night and good luck.

  7. Right to reply January 19, 2017 at 4:22 pm #

    It amazes me that here we have an inadequate authority, with the DFE now involved, a newly awarded commissioner in the form of Eleanor Brazil OBE, and a council so out of touch that they have let a DCS go after 9 months…was she really given a chance? Whilst threatening their very work force for daring to say enough is enough and yet retain other senior figures who have been round a lot longer than the DCS e.g. Interim Assistant Director 13 months, and arguably is accountable for the disarray of her service but who appears to have a teflon coating because she is still around…wouldn’t surprise me if this will be next DCS in Kirklees such is the crazy thinking of this council…who on earth is the CEO..,and why are they agreeing to such a plan…these are your staff for goodness sake…show them you care…when was the last time you walked the floor and sat down and talked to them in their office/work environment

    Seems to me Brazil needs to stop messing about and just bring in an improvement team that will not only support improvement but also supports, respects and understands how front line staff are feeling and also have the ability to sit down in a professional adult way with the unions to discuss issues and find solutions together.

    Another novel idea, what about our so called esteemed chief social worker…the voice of social work…maybe she should get out of the ivory tower and visit front line social workers and listen to them face to face starting with Kirklees as opposed to listening and jumping to the policitcal puppet masters of the DFE…social work is being decimated in this country and hung out to dry from policians who don’t care until the general election and then suddenly they are interested…oh I forgot Cheif Social Work doesn’t travel outside of London because London knows best so she doesn’t need to listen to the regions hmm !

    Good luck to all social workers in Kirklees hold your nerve because it’s about time social work fought back and unison it’s about time you started fighting for social work

  8. student social worker January 19, 2017 at 8:15 pm #

    Solidarity to those striking workers who have had the courage for stand up for the profession and service users. Thank you!!!

  9. Phil Sanderson January 19, 2017 at 8:46 pm #

    Perhaps Councillors should assess the risks to children of the draconian Tory cuts that they have implemented to date ! These people have no shame and they clearly have plenty of money to go to the High Court to challenge the ballot!

    Well done to the workers of Kirklees stand firm and take your action!

  10. Andrew January 20, 2017 at 8:56 am #

    No no, none of you understand.

    The problems in Kirklees are all the fault of the social workers – the councillors have no responsibility for the problems. – because they don’t think they have a role. Which has created the problem in the first place.

  11. Seán January 20, 2017 at 1:57 pm #

    Social workers need to take a leaf out of the doctors and BMA’s book, say NO, strike and hold our nerve!

  12. Josephine January 21, 2017 at 7:57 am #

    Part of our role as social workers is to advocate, stand up for injustice, enable change and make sense of chaos! We are so very skilled in these areas so why oh why can’t we do it for ourselves????
    We do need to take a leaf out of the book of the junior doctors and look after our own needs for a change!