A council has threatened to take legal action against a union over strike action children’s social workers plan to take next week.
The council set the union a deadline of 4pm yesterday. But the union refused to back down and today told Community Care the strike will go ahead as planned. The council has yet to set out its next move.
Social workers at the council want action on a series of issues including pay, caseloads, IT systems and high dependency on agency staff.
A ballot on industrial action was backed by 79% of 75 Unison members who voted. In its letter, the council claimed it was unable to find out how many staff were balloted, what level they worked at and where they worked and therefore the action was “unlawful”. But Unison replied that it had taken legal advice over the matter and would be going ahead with the strike.
Ratcheted up the dispute
Paul Holmes, branch secretary for Unison in Kirklees, said any move by the council to seek an injunction would be unprecedented among local authorities, adding: “I think it’s really ratcheted the dispute up”.
When news of the strike emerged, councillors in Kirklees accused the union of playing politics with a vital service and demanded an assessment of the risks the walk-out would pose to children.
Holmes said any suggestion the strike would place service users at extra risk was a “red herring”.
“We would provide emergency cover as we would on a Bank Holiday. There’s nobody saying that people are at risk on a Bank Holiday,” he said.
The dispute comes amid upheaval at Kirklees children’s services. The council’s director of children’s services quit last week after less than nine months in post. The authority has been under government intervention since being given an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating in November last year.
Kirklees council has been contacted for comment.