The College of Social Work would become “dominated by trade union interests” if it forms a partnership with Unison, the British Association of Social Workers has warned.
BASW published the statement on its website after the college development group confirmed it was considering a business model based on a partnership agreement with trade unions such as Unison, which represents 40,000 social workers.
This could save the College an estimated £2m per year and result in lower membership fees for practitioners.
But BASW, which is developing a “convergence” deal with the college that could result in a merger between the two organisations, said it was concerned that a joint membership deal with Unison would “limit the independence” of the College.
“Too close links with one trade union would give Unison or anyone else an influence which would detract from its own ability to be directly accountable to its members,” said the association’s chief executive, Hilton Dawson.
“Trade unions have a broader agenda than social work, and the College must be able to publicly represent social workers even where this conflicts with the interests of any one union,” he added.
But Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social work, said Unison already held existing partnerships with other professional colleges, such as the College of Occupational Therapists. These allow the colleges to operate completely independently with their own membership databases, elected governance structures and policy-making, while providing members with trade union services.
“This is cost effective for the individual as they pay a single fee and the two memberships come as a package and attract tax relief,” she said.
Stephen Goulder, director of corporate services and workforce development at the Social Care Institute for Excellence, which is facilitating the college development group, said: “We are meeting with BASW officers to reach a clear understanding of their anxieties about a potential partnership with Unison.
“The [college development] team is also working with Unison to see how some of these anxieties might be overcome.”
BASW’s proposals to “converge” with the College include the association providing some of the college’s membership services, such as a magazine and professional advice. Alternatively, its functions could be “totally absorbed” into the College, Dawson said.