Behind the headlines

A fortnight ago Nottingham Council obtained an injunction to
prevent a strike by its approved social workers. It argued the
action could have ‘fatal consequences’ because mentally ill people
may be unable to obtain emergency care. A High Court judge then
revoked the order and said the action could go ahead. But last week
the staff reached an agreement with the council and are not
proceeding with a walk-out over back pay. The row is one of a
growing number of industrial disputes in social care.

Julia Ross, social services director, London Borough of
Barking and Dagenham

“As a trade union member I have never taken part in direct
industrial action as I have always taken the line that I am here to
protect and support vulnerable people and that comes first. As a
social worker and nurse, I find it hard to see how any other line
could be justified. Everyone must make their own decision on what
they think is supportable but I think it’s a pity that it came to a
legal wrangle and I am sure that all those involved, bar the
lawyers, would feel the same.”

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth

“Being an approved social worker in Nottingham is mug’s game”, a
friend of mine who is one recently told me. He described additional
responsibilities and personal accountability with no caseload
relief or extra pay. It’s over seven years since they began seeking
improved terms and conditions. Nottingham City Council’s failure to
sort this out earlier has damaged morale and showed it is out of
touch with workforce reform that links pay increments to tasks and
experience. That was the key risk to Nottingham service users’ well

Bob Hudson, professor of partnership studies, Health
Services Management Centre, University of Birmingham

“Social workers should not be expected to surrender the right to
withdraw their labour, and Nottingham Council will only have made a
bad situation worse by taking legal action. During the lengthy
social work strike of the late 1970s, strikers still ensured that a
skeleton service existed for emergencies. People in social work are
not lightly inclined to strike, and employers should attempt to
negotiate a ‘life and limb’ safety net rather than engage in heavy

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and

“In the end participation in a legal strike has to be a matter of
personal conscience. I decided not to strike as a newly qualified
worker in the 1970s but many others gave convincing arguments for
the action they took. If salaries and conditions afforded to social
workers are such that vacancies remain unfilled then staff who stay
risk burning out. An under-resourced service may put the public at
greater risk. Some social workers undoubtedly believe they can
contribute collectively to the possibility of a more effective
social work service.”

Martin Green, chief executive,Counsel and

“The timing of the High Courts’ decision that approved social
workers in Nottingham have the right to strike is interesting
because it coincides with measures to improve the status of social
work as a profession. There is the potential for a strike to
undermine the moves towards improving public perceptions of the
service and it would give some in the media a further opportunity
to bash social workers.”

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