Council’s decision on ‘pay cut’ for emergency duty social workers delayed after dispute

Wiltshire practitioners fear changes to unsocial hours pay could cut their annual earnings by £7,000, but local authority warns redundancies could follow if financial reforms not carried out

pay key on keyboard
Photo: md3d/Fotolia

Wiltshire council has delayed a decision to change unsocial hours payments for staff, after emergency duty social workers warned their annual earnings could dwindle by £7,000 as a result.

The authority hopes to save £10m on staffing over the next two years, with £2.1m coming from proposed changes to unsocial hours, overtime, standby and callout allowances as well as a temporary freeze on pay increments.

It plans to scrap a pay uplift of up to 20% that staff such as emergency duty team (EDT) social workers receive for working unsocial hours.

The council has proposed to introduce an increase of up to 33% in workers’ hourly pay rate between 10pm and 6am. But EDT staff have said only two of these hours will apply to them as they are ‘on call’ after midnight and are not paid an hourly rate.

Unions have warned that full-time staff, including EDT social workers, could lose up to £7,000 a year if the changes are brought in.

In its budget report for 2022-23, the council said it aimed to agree the proposed changes with trade unions by 1 April, but this deadline has now been pushed back after concerns were raised by frontline workers.

Consultations with frontline social workers around unsocial hours, overtime, standby and callout allowances will now continue until June, with the freeze on pay increments negotiated separately.

GMB and UNISON, which both represent EDT social workers at Wilshire council, are against the proposed changes to unsocial hours payments and are arguing that the council should scrap them.

Unions: ‘changes are not something anyone wants to see’

The council approved its pay policy statement for 2022-23 last week, but will allow amendments to unsocial hours, overtime and standby and callout allowances to be made after negotiations with unions are finalised.

“Unsocial hours, overtime, and standby and callout allowances are currently subject to negotiation with trade unions on changes to these allowances to ensure that they support new ways of working and service delivery,” its pay policy report said.

“Once agreement on these changes has been reached, the pay policy statement will be updated to reflect the changes.”

John Drake, regional officer at UNISON, said the extension to negotiations until June offered some “reprieve” and welcomed the separation of discussions on a freeze to increments, which he said was a less contentious proposal.

He said the “best case scenario” would be for the council to scrap planned changes to unsocial hours, overtime and standby and callout allowances altogether. Drake described the changes as “not something anyone wants to see, particularly in the current climate”.

“We’ll be involved in the working groups and if it doesn’t look like it is going to achieve anything, then we’ll have a view and take action accordingly,” he said.

Meanwhile, Andy Newman, GMB’s Wiltshire and Swindon branch secretary, said his union was consulting staff on the council’s proposals and that it would “not recommend to our members that they accept a pay cut”.

Redundancies possible if no changes made, warns council

Lucy Townsend, Wiltshire council’s corporate director for people, who leads its adults’ and children’s services, told Community Care that the authority’s current unsocial hours, overtime, standby and callout policies were “no longer fit for purpose” and not in line with similar organisations.

She said the council intended to change these policies to secure its long-term financial position, which would help to “prevent redundancies”.

Townsend agreed that social workers provided essential services but said she could not “hand on heart commit” to their not being made redundant “if we don’t have a balanced budget”.

But she added: “I will be the champion for all the staff in my services, which includes those social workers that are working in emergency duty services.”

In an email to staff seen by Community Care, the council’s chief executive, Terence Herbert, warned that if its proposals were rejected by staff, he would “have to take steps to achieve these savings through a combination of further attempts to vary and reduce other terms and conditions or through redundancies, which is something I want to avoid”.

Drake said there was “not much scope for redundancies” at Wiltshire because of staffing cuts already made over the past decade across local authorities.

Council: ‘we don’t want to lose our staff’

Despite the warning of redundancies, Townsend said the council could alter its plans to change unsocial hours payments if it were to make the authority uncompetitive with other social work employers.

She said the council would undertake benchmarking while it reviewed the changes to terms and conditions and could adjust payments for “groups of staff whose salaries need to reflect the market position”.

“If we determine via that benchmarking that changing the terms and conditions would have an adverse impact on salaries of those critical workers, we will look to remain competitive,” she said.

“We will use the evidence available to us and we will ensure our staff are fairly remunerated for the work that they do. We don’t want to lose our staff.”

Townsend said the council offered other benefits such as manageable caseloads”, “quality of learning and development”, and “support to our staff and managers” to ensure it was “somewhere that social workers want to work”.


4 Responses to Council’s decision on ‘pay cut’ for emergency duty social workers delayed after dispute

  1. J. Lowe February 23, 2022 at 9:12 am #

    EDT is often considered by management as a”luxury “however it covers the full range of services available during the day. I have worked in an EDT team and have regularly had shifts that were continuously busy. The staff need a level of versatility, experience and decision making skills. Service users benefit greatly from this in whatever form their emergency arises.
    A competent EDT reduces the workload of day time staff.

    • P Rimmer February 25, 2022 at 3:10 pm #

      EDT is certainly not a luxury, it is a necessity and it is extremely hard work.
      I worked at Wiltshire EDT 10 years ago, they are an extremely hard working, highly skilled group of staff covering a massive geographical area. If staff in that service are not looked after, I suspect they may take their not insignificant skill set (and much sought after AMHP warrants) elsewhere…which will then necessitate the use of agency staff and cost even more…..false economy!?

  2. Beth February 25, 2022 at 5:21 pm #

    Here we go again Local Authority making staff responsible for the holes in their budgets!
    Social workers used to get car allowances but that was eroded along with pay. Just an insult in terms of the level of skill required.
    False economy they will destabilise their service then costs more in long run. Please pay social workers what they are worth and make cuts by looking to see if you have top heavy management in first instance!

  3. Chrissie Martin February 25, 2022 at 6:16 pm #

    I worked at EDT as a Duty Manager for several years. EDT covers 121 hours 365 days a year. How dare they call it a luxury. At a time when staff are leaving in their droves, can Wiltshire really afford to talk about redundancies? I don’t know Wiltshire but all LAs need surely to work as hard as they can and do what is necessary to retain staff.