The British Association of Social Workers today formally launched an arm’s-length trade union.
BASW has claimed the Social Workers Union (SWU) is “in no sense a competitor” to other trade unions representing social workers.
But the move has provoked a mixed response. Brian Strutton, national secretary of GMB, said: “GMB has a good working relationship with BASW and we respect their expertise in social work.
“However, social workers who want a trade union are best served by the established unions who have negotiating rights, namely GMB, Unite and Unison.”
However, Roger Kline, social care spokesperson for Aspect, was more supportive. “Now that BASW has set up a certified trade union they are entitled to represent their members,” he said.
“Social workers need a trade union that is close to and understands their specific profession and is not dominated by other interests.”
The launch is further complicated by BASW’s memorandum of understanding to work towards merging with the College of Social Work by January 2012.
The College already has a commitment to partner with Unison, which represents around 40,000 social workers throughout the UK, leaving the SWU’s future uncertain.
Maurice Bates, interim co-chair of the College of Social Work, said: “The College is in continuing discussions with BASW about our vision for a strong, effective, authoritative and independent voice for the profession of social work. Our memorandum of understanding with BASW makes absolutely no reference to BASW’s new, proposed trade union for social workers.
“At the end of last year, the College reached agreement with Unison whereby Unison will provide employee representation to College members and the College will provide professional advice services to social workers who are Unison members. Our agreement with Unison stands.”
Unison did not provide a comment.
BASW members voted in favour of setting up the SWU at their annual general meeting in May.
The association’s 14,000 members can opt-in to membership of the union at no extra cost, and are not prevented from joining or continuing to be members of other trade unions, such as Unison, Unite and GMB.
The SWU is currently pressing for recognition for negotiation rights with all UK local authorities.
The general secretary’s view
The launch of the Social Workers Union (SWU) is unequivocal good news for our profession, writes BASW chief executive and SWU general secretary Hilton Dawson. It reinforces our identity as social workers, firmly links practice issues with pay and conditions, strengthens the rights of thousands of social workers in the workplace and provides a firm platform for us to work more constructively and positively with the trade union movement.
Members of BAW agreed that the SWU should be an arm’s length organisation which they could opt to join at no extra cost. Over the past three months, we have completed the legal process for listing and certification of the union, discussed the formation of the SWU with other trade unions and applied to join the Trade Union Congress.
We are determined to work in close co-operation and partnership with all other unions. We are in no sense a competitor for either the more specialised or more general public service unions; we respect the roles of existing organisations and are keen to work more closely on issues of mutual concern.
BASW is, of course, in close negotiations with the interim board of the College of Social Work. I believe that the joint college which I hope will result from our discussions will be immeasurably strengthened by the presence and partnership of the SWU.
CareSpace contributors’ views of unions
● tricky Never had any hassle with my job to want to gain representation, but don’t waste your money on these unions; employers are not daunted by them. Get them into court with a fully briefed HR or legal rep and they soon back off.
● romeo2001 Never been a fan of unions as they have let me and others down abjectly in the past, but I am a member purely from the fear factor and always advise others to do the same.
● tiptop Tell the scores of workers who get their jobs back when unfairly dismissed because of union representation that their subs are all a waste of time and money and see what they think of union membership.
● Happyhaze I have been a union rep for several years. We most definitely give our members value for money and the more people who muck in and help the stronger we are.
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