Article updated 23 March 2023
Unions are threatening strike action over the £1,925 pay offer made by council leaders to social workers and other local authority staff for 2023-24.
UNISON, which represents an estimated 40,000 social workers across the UK, will ballot its members on taking industrial action in a bid for a better deal*.
Fellow union Unite is consulting its members on the offer, recommending rejection, said that councils needed to improve it to avert industrial action. The third union, the GMB, is also balloting its members on the proposed deal and has recommended rejection.
The employers’ side of the National Joint Council for Local Government Services (NJC) made the offer – which they described as “full and final” – last month.
What proposed deal means for staff
The £1,925 rise would apply to staff earning up to £49,950 in councils covered by the NJC, which constitute the majority of councils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Staff earning more than this would receive a 3.88% boost, which is worth more than £1,925 in cash terms.
For social workers, the deal would be worth up to 6.4%, an increase that would apply to newly qualified practitioners on NJC pay point 23, earning £30,151.
Though this was the highest increase in council pay in many years – worth 4.04% to 6.6% for social workers – it represented a real-terms cut, with the rate of inflation measuring 10.1% in the year to January 2023.
The government has said that inflation is due to average about 5.5% in 2023-24, meaning the 2023-24 offer could constitute a real-terms increase in pay for at least some practitioners, though without compensating for this year’s cut, and those from previous years.
‘Offer falls short of what’s needed’
“These unsung workers deserve to be properly rewarded,” said its head of local government, Mike Short. “But this offer falls short of what’s needed when the value of their pay has been chipped away for years and bills are soaring.
“Preparations are now under way to ballot council and school employees to see if they’re prepared to strike to achieve a better deal.”
In a statement published yesterday before talks were held with employers today, Unite acting national officer Clare Keogh said: “Local government employers need to recognise that there is growing anger among local government workers about the way they are treated year after year in pay negotiations. If the employers want to avoid industrial action they need to make a much improved offer. It is as simple as that.”
For the GMB, whose ballot will run for six weeks from the end of March, national officer Sharon Wilde said: “Simply put, this deal isn’t enough to make up for a decade of austerity, followed by a cost-of-living crisis.”
*This article has been updated to acknowledge that UNISON is balloting its members on taking industrial action, rather than on their willingness to take such action.