Children’s social workers in Kirklees have begun a two-day walkout following a dispute over workloads, pay and “bullying”.
The council’s Unison branch said the action was being taken because workloads for social workers had doubled since 2012 and many staff had “had enough”.
The union said Kirklees council, which was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted last year, was expecting fewer staff to handle higher workloads with less resource. It claimed social workers were also leaving the council and returning as agency staff “and earning £10,000 per year” more than permanent staff.
The 48-hour walk out is the latest development in a long-running row between the union and council over working conditions. A one-day walkout of nearly 200 social workers planned for earlier this year was called off at the last minute.
Paul Holmes, the local Unison branch secretary, said: “Members have had enough. Enough of bullying, enough of stress, enough of vacancies, enough of poor pay, enough of agency staff and enough of austerity.
“You can only work under stress for so long – once it becomes a way of life, then stress illnesses soar and people who thought of themselves as strong start to ‘go under’.
“That is nothing to do with weakness and everything to do with increasing workloads and ‘no light at the end of the tunnel.’ Our members have had enough of doing a difficult job in stressful circumstances for inadequate pay.”
Last year the government appointed Eleanor Brazil as a commissioner to advise whether Kirklees children’s services should remain in council control or be moved into a trust or alternative model. She has submitted her findings to ministers but a final decision has been delayed by the general election.
Brazil said Unison’s decision to pursue industrial action was “extremely disappointing” given assurances provided by the council’s senior leadership.
“Staff in children’s services are working hard in difficult circumstances as we all aim to improve services and achieve the highest possible standards of support for children and families. This action does not help staff and families to develop confidence in the steps that are being taken to achieve positive changes.”
Erin Hill, Kirklees’ cabinet member for children’s services, said: “Part of the frustration I feel personally is that we have done all we can to include and understand Unison’s position throughout the improvement process. It is not for me to say whether this is the best way of representing their members, but I feel certain that the voice of the children we represent is lost when this kind of action is taken.
“The vast majority of staff I speak to are incredibly committed to protecting the most vulnerable children in Kirklees, which is our top priority. My door is always open to suggestions from staff or from Unison, but I remain unclear as to what Kirklees Unison actually hope to achieve – just as I was the last time they took such action.”
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