Unions threaten strike action over councils’ £1,925 pay offer

UNISON pledges to ballot staff on taking industrial action while Unite warns walkouts will only be averted by improved offer

Unidentified young demostrator with megaphone and notebook protesting against austerity cuts
Photo: WH_Pics/Adobe Stock

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.

The offer is the same in cash terms as the deal agreed with the unions for 2022-23 in November.

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’

However, UNISON said today that the offer fell short.

“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.


22 Responses to Unions threaten strike action over councils’ £1,925 pay offer

  1. anon March 8, 2023 at 10:15 pm #

    Works out as 5% pay rise for me.
    Minus increases in council tax coming in April.
    Minus the continuous increases in food, gas, electric, petrol over the last two years…

    Hopefully those in unions vote to strike and we get something better.

  2. Lou Wright March 9, 2023 at 7:08 am #

    I think a lot of these unions need to wake up – ‘real term’ pay rises are not sustainable for this county in the public sector. After years of no pay rises, every little helps right now. I will vote against striking, as the work will be waiting for me the day after.

    • Stacey March 10, 2023 at 9:59 pm #

      This is what the government are depending on, there is absolutely sufficient money to properly fund public services and staff but the Tories aren’t interested in doing so. We need to stand up and ask for what we are worth, Social workers for too long are pushed down to the bottom of the pile and the back of the line when it comes to increases. If I had remained in the NHS I would be on £8000 a year more over the 10 year span of my SW career than I am having moved to a LA. Social Work is more complex than ever, the work is incredibly rough and we are working in a horrific climate, we deserve to be suitably compensated for that.

    • Me March 12, 2023 at 2:29 pm #

      I think people in the private sector need to wake up. Work harder and pay more taxes and they’ll have the public services they want. Otherwise, I guess we’ll gradually fall further and further behind in the world. Guess the country hasn’t finished declining since the days of empire. We may eventually join the rest of the world and fall back into poverty. Since poverty and hunger are the norm. Not western living standards.

  3. donna March 9, 2023 at 3:15 pm #

    We need to make a stand like all other professionals are

  4. Sara March 10, 2023 at 7:05 am #

    Social work pay has increased. Starting salaries were lower years ago. But those in local authorities who’s current pay is under £25k p.a, like benefit assessors, should have a higher increase, to bring them to a livable minimum wage.

  5. Jane March 10, 2023 at 12:49 pm #

    I will be voting for strike action. There needs to be a clear message to central government that enough is enough.
    Though people have commented that social work starting salaries are higher now, well retention is lower than it has ever been. We need to be able to increase retention and value the hard work Social Worker’s do every day.

  6. Pay_up March 10, 2023 at 12:59 pm #

    This is just Union ‘Richard’ swinging… Let’s face it, even if they do manage to negotiate, the best they’ve ever proven themselves is to get a small increase over the original offer. This process will now potentially drag on for 6 months; for the sake of £15-£30 per month, then deduct pension and tax; it’s not worth the prolonged process in my eyes…

    I for one agree we are all worth more across all roles in Local Government; but I also need to pay my bills now; so waiting 6 months or longer is simply not acceptable; especially since the union is also then delaying a pay award to those who are not members.

    Double digit percentage rises are not viable and never ever going to happen; and it would only be a double digit rise across the board that would be worth the pain of waiting.

    Sign it, and pay up – for once, from April!

    • Kay March 13, 2023 at 8:05 pm #

      Absolutely agree. I’ll be voting against strike action on this basis.

      I’m a LA senior social worker – I earn 51k … yes I’d like more but everyone in every job wants more

      • Paul March 16, 2023 at 7:40 am #

        Wow where do you get 51k as a senior social worker. Our service manager salary is 48k at top of the scale

      • Pixie March 16, 2023 at 10:47 am #

        What LA do you work for. Senior social workers in my area only earn £38K. There is such inconsistency in pay across Local Authorities. We are the forgotten sector – however face risk and manage risk on a daily basis. We do not get the credit we deserve, despite going above and beyond for families and children on a day to day basis.

  7. Joe March 10, 2023 at 2:25 pm #

    Social workers deserve a pay raise that matches other professionals, why not 12% like the teachers and nurses are striking for.
    It’s a shame social workers don’t have much unity through the Unions, I hope there is strike action as that is the only think that would make this Government listen.

    Not to mention most social workers I know working a minimum of 20+ extra hours a month for free.

  8. Jon March 10, 2023 at 5:41 pm #

    If you need the money now I’d except the offer. The unions are not going to get us anything better than this offer. We can except now and receive this in the next couple of months or reject the offer and receive the same offer in a years time.

    • Chris April 1, 2023 at 1:19 pm #

      A decent take it offer has RPI. WILL Decrease in next 12 months and can’t see employers accepting higher be a lower off that will drag out for ages when people need this rise now to slightly help offset council tax increases food costs gone through the roof and multi billion earning energy companies ripping us of on the price we pay in per kilowatt hour

    • M April 5, 2023 at 8:26 am #

      I could respond to so many comments here in agreement. Sadly to be heard, striking seems like the only way forward. Some might think accept and get instant gratification of perhaps an extra £15 per month. Another way to look at it, strike, and if we get the same offer in a year at least we can have a lump sum that might enable us to do something more tangible.

  9. benzl March 12, 2023 at 10:37 am #

    Like others on here, I could do with the money. but this is not just about pay. the appalling state of public services is indefensible. cuts to home care, day services, respite, housing support, mental health, carers support, sw vacancies deleted, no office space and cost-cutting in every area has made the job impossible. every time i speak to a service user, i have to start with an apology. we cannot go on any longer like this. we are a well-unionised workforce and more powerful than we imagine. last year i took the money. this year i will be voting to strike & so should you.

  10. JM March 13, 2023 at 7:50 pm #

    Wow, just wow!

    There are some backbones missing here. I will 100% vote to strike. This cost of living crisis + years of austerity have had a major impact on my disposable income = have very little to spare each month.

  11. Berni March 14, 2023 at 3:13 pm #

    This is the one action we can take as a workforce and I agree with the views of others around the continual erosion of services and support from LAs who are closing and getting rid of everything possible to try and balance the books.

    Yes government will continue to trim if LAs carry on with the fire sale currently going on.

    There is money in this country and it is right that what each of wants to see happen here can be marginally impacted by such actions as striking.

    If we just carry on you may as well start working philanthropically because every time I consider it the government has got its hand in my pocket and pay has gone down in real terms across the last decade.

    We have to be visible and vocal , I can see the point in what some people are saying about take the pay now.

    Its a late trap to placate a workforce that has gone the last 12 years with an UK wide policy objective or removing every aspect of social in the fabric of the wider state and reduced pay .

    When did zero contracts become a norm .

    When did food banks become a norm.

    When did the rich just get away with not paying their fair share.

    When did politics become to toxic and corrupt- PPE anyone.

    Its starting to feel like a day in the senate in ancient Rome.

    Its time to strike not just for pay but what it means to keep allowing LAs to erode pay and services doing the government’s dirty work and how this affects daily everyone.

    • Alli Bolton March 27, 2023 at 11:51 pm #

      It’s pretty poor when teachers nurses ambulance workers post workers fire officers all strike but social workers who are agents for change and should be fighting for social justice and standing up for their roles to support the poorest in society… just rollover and don’t fight for fair pay.

  12. Gregory wright March 16, 2023 at 4:02 pm #

    Any offer is better than no offer

  13. Emma March 22, 2023 at 6:28 pm #

    I really think it should be an equal percentage increase for all grades, rather than a fixed amount which obviously works out better for those on the lower pay points. Maybe 8% to all grades. It might help with retention of social workers

  14. B March 23, 2023 at 4:24 am #

    What have we got over 13 years of austerity
    Huge recruitment and retention issues, decimation of adequate work places, being charged for car parking, paying more in pensions, higher tax thresholds lowered, loss of mileage allowances and allowances for practice educator role, AMPH role. Real terms pay decrease of nearly 20%, loss of training departments, no real recompense for hybrid working . The real decrease in terms and conditions has been massive. Many of the workers have left therefore the real impact over tbe 13 years of austerity is not fully laid out as with Health and Education workers.