Cafcass staff quizzed on readiness to take industrial action as union heads reject 2.5% offer

Napo and UNISON invoke disputes procedure, prompting talks with Cafcass, though family court body's hands are tied by government pay remit

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Cafcass staff are being quizzed on their readiness to take industrial action after union leaders rejected a 2.51% pay offer for 2022-23.

Napo and UNISON have sent out consultative ballots to their members – including social workers who practise as family court advisers – asking them whether they accept or reject the offer and, if the latter, whether they would be prepared to take industrial action in response.

Should they reject the offer, a further statutory ballot for industrial action would need to take place and be supported, in line with government rules, for a strike or work to rule to take place.

The offer amounts to both a significant real-terms pay cut, with annual inflation having topped 9% since April and reaching 11% in October.- But is also well behind the increase given this year to council social workers covered by the National Joint Council for Local Government Services agreement.

The £1,925 rise for this group amounts to an increase of 4% to 6.6% for most social workers in England and Wales and would constitute the sixth time in seven years that council practitioners have received a higher rise than Cafcass professionals, unless the offer is improved for the latter.

Cafcass restricted by government pay limit

Having rejected the offer, Napo and UNISON have invoked the disputes procedure at Cafcass, prompting a set of talks with the family courts body designed to secure a resolution. However, Cafcass’s hands are tied by the pay remit it has been set by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), under which it may only increase the overall pay bill by 3% in 2022-23 – a decision governed by civil service rules.

Napo general secretary Ian Lawrence told Community Care the unions held a virtual meeting with members last week, which he said was very well-attended and where “there was no doubting the anger about where we are”.

Lawrence said members were also sympathetic to Cafcass’s predicament and that the unions and employer had worked together to build a “robust case to the Ministry of Justice for a competitive pay offer”.

He said Cafcass shared the unions’ “frustration” at the outcome, pointing to chief executive Jacky Tiotto’s repeated warnings about the risks of staff attrition rates worsening in the absence of a pay offer that was competitive with local authorities’ deal.

‘No recognition of pay deal for council staff’

“The key thing here is that there’s been no recognition by the government of the recently-agreed local government pay offer,” Lawrence added. “My view is that ministers need to wake up and recognise the potential crisis that’s developing here.”

Lawrence said the unions were seeking a meeting with justice minister Lord Bellamy “as a matter of urgency”, adding: “I hope he affords us this opportunity as he needs to understand what is going on in his department.”

A Cafcass spokesperson said: “We know that many of the dedicated people who work at Cafcass are disappointed by the pay award we have been authorised to offer and are worried about the rising cost of living. We are doing all we can within the government pay rules to support staff financially in these difficult times.

“We have a constructive working relationship with the recognised trade unions for Cafcass and have entered into the trade dispute process in good faith.

“Due to the ongoing nature of these sensitive discussions, we are unable to provide any further comment on the dispute at this stage.

In a statement last month responding to Cafcass’s offer, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Cafcass plays a vital role ensuring children’s voices are at the heart of the family court which is why we provided £4.7m in additional funding to help it operate during the pandemic. The latest pay offer is in line with others across central government.”

The unions’ consultative ballot closes on 12 December.


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3 Responses to Cafcass staff quizzed on readiness to take industrial action as union heads reject 2.5% offer

  1. Mary K December 6, 2022 at 7:29 am #

    The problem for cafcass retaining staff is the rapidly deteriorating work conditions huge case numbers high expectations and little motivation to staff . Staff are paid much more than their counterparts in local authority .

  2. Michelle December 6, 2022 at 9:27 am #

    I doubt staff will strike knowing they already earn much higher than local authority staff and that a strike will lose them money in the long and short run . It’s a pointless waste only increasing further stress on staff after the strike action .

  3. J R December 7, 2022 at 5:25 pm #

    The gap in the pay difference is closing…most IRO posts are around £5,000 better off a year to an FCA in Cafcass.
    If they want to retain and attract experienced staff, that bring expertise to the role they need to consider reviewing the overall pay structure and conditions. Cafcass pay has not been reviewed overall for over 10 years.