Workload: Unions and government on collision course

Trade unions and the government are at loggerheads over how quickly councils should implement workload “health checks”.

The British Association of Social Workers has joined Unison in calling for a clearer timeframe for the checks, recommended by the Social Work Task Force in December.

Nushra Mansuri, professional officer for BASW, said the government should be “more proactive” and make it a requirement for all local authorities to do the checks within a set time.

Responding to the suggestion of a three-month deadline, as proposed by Unison earlier this week, Mansuri said: “It has to be within this year. If three months is too soon, make it six.”

The taskforce, whose 15 recommendations to improve the profession in England have been accepted by government, suggested employers conduct an “immediate health check” using an initial framework published in the final report. This covers issues such as vacancies, caseloads and IT equipment. In the long term, and will feed into the development of a national standard for employers on support for social workers.

But the government-appointed social work reform board, set up to oversee implementation of the taskforce’s recommendations, has so far refused to set a specific deadline.

Mansuri said there was a danger health checks would be “put on the shelf” if employers were left to their own devices.

“Right now health checks are at the discretion of local authorities, and I don’t think that’s good enough,” she said. “It needs to be more formalised.”

Both BASW and Unison are also calling for the uptake and outcomes of health checks to be properly monitored.

A spokesperson for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said there were no plans to monitor uptake because the checks were intended as a “self-assessment tool to help organisations”.

Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social workers, said the union would monitor the outcome of health checks through its branches.

“All employers need to remember that there will be a new national set of employment standards that they need to adopt,” she said. “The health check gives them an opportunity to prepare for these changes.”

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