College of Social Work defends Unison tie-up

The College of Social Work has defended its decision to partner with Unison, saying the offer for a possible merger with the British Association of Social Workers was still open.

In an open letter to BASW members published on its website, the interim board of the college appealed to the 13,000-strong association to “work with us to avoid dividing the profession”.

The board wrote the letter in response to concerns that BASW’s decision to rebrand as BASW – the College of Social Work, announced last week, would result in the establishment of two colleges and undermine attempts to create a single voice for the profession.

It also used the opportunity to address some of the criticisms of how the college, which is being developed as part of the reform programme in England, has conducted its business so far.

The college announced in December that it had struck an agreement with Unison, under which the union would provide employee representation services to college members.

But BASW said the college should develop its own trade union arm, to ensure it remained independent of any one union’s particular interests.

In a letter to the co-chairs of the college disclosed last week, BASW’s UK chair, Fran Fuller, claimed the agreement was “unlawful”.

She wrote: “We are advised that this agreement is unlawful and it is certainly anti-competitive because the substantial public funds available to the college will enable it to provide services currently offered by this independent professional association [BASW] exclusively to Unison members, at a considerable discount.”

In its open letter to BASW members, the interim board said it had been advised that the deal was legal.

“It is possible that the BASW council are misinformed about the nature of the deal,” the board wrote.

“At the moment we are developing a formal agreement that will cover issues around sharing information about members, access to other unions and safeguards to protect the independent policy positions of the college and of Unison.”

The interim board defended its decision not to develop an independent trade union arm: “This would take a considerable length of time and could also be costly.”

And it reiterated its desire to work towards a merger with BASW, stating that the “combination of the strengths of Unison and BASW” would build a “very powerful college”.

● Read the full letter from the College of Social Work to BASW members

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