Should employers pay social workers market supplements/bonuses in roles that are hard to recruit to or retain?
- Yes, it effectively tackles workforce shortages (64%, 282 Votes)
- No, it creates unwarranted inequalities in pay (22%, 98 Votes)
- It is sometimes justifiable within strict limits (14%, 63 Votes)
Total Voters: 443
Adults’ social workers and occupational therapists have carried out a three-day strike over inequalities in pay with children’s colleagues at a local authority.
About 60 UNISON members at South Gloucestershire Council have taken the action in protest at £3,000 recruitment and retention payments received by children’s social workers on similar grades to them at the South West authority.
The union went into dispute with the authority over the issue last summer, in relation to the payments introduced for social workers, advanced and senior social workers in children’s services, involving:
- A £3,000 lump sum for recruits who have already passed their assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) on successful completion of their probation.
- A £3,000 annual payment for those with two years’ service with the council.
UNISON argued that the payments should be applied to adults’ practitioners on the same grades – including OTs – both on grounds of fairness and because the recruitment and retention pressures that were the drivers for the bonuses applied equally in adults’ services.
However, the union said, the council did not respond to the dispute with any offer to adults’ practitioners, prompting a ballot for strike action, which won 94% support. Practitioners walked out this week, from 4-6 April.
Adults’ social workers ‘feel less valued’
UNISON staff representative and senior social worker at South Gloucestershire Sophie Hall said: “From a social work perspective, our role and career are around providing equitable services to the community. We just want to be treated with equity ourselves.”
Fellow social worker Rachael Darbishire, also a UNISON representative, said: “I’m passionate about the important work we do, but this wage inequality makes me and my colleagues feel less valued. The challenges may be different, but we work just as hard. The council should pay us all the same.”
Michael Sweetman, UNISON’s South West regional organiser, added: “Those in adults not only do the same jobs for the same employer, but they also have similar problems in recruitment and retention.
“The council has shared some statistics with us – the evidence for South Gloucestershire and nationally shows that, while children’s services are the hardest to recruit and retain, adults’ are not very far behind.”
Latest England-wide figures show increasing vacancy and turnover rates for both children’s and adults’ practitioners in local authorities, nationally, though shortages are significantly higher in the former, at 20%, compared with 11.6% in adults’ services, as of September 2022.
Bonuses more common in children’s services
Eighty three per cent of councils faced difficulties recruiting children’s social workers and 71% were similarly challenged in respect of adults’ practitioners, while 72% and 57%, respectively, reported the same with retention, found a Local Government Association survey carried out in spring 2022.
Notably, while 25% had used market supplements to attract staff in adults’ services, double this proportion (48%) had done so in children’s services.
UNISON’s strike mandate allows members to take action up to September 2023 at South Gloucestershire. Sweetman said that the authority had invited UNISON to a meeting on Tuesday 11 April, leaving him hopeful that a deal could be done.
“People are feeling optimistic that the council will listen to the message and will table an offer,” he added.
A South Gloucestershire Council spokesperson said: “We are dedicated to responding to the issues staff tell us are important to them and we want to create environments where our workforce can thrive. We received positive results to our recent adult social care staff survey and the outcomes of the external health check for social workers with adults has shown that we are continuing to make progress.
“The council remains committed to engaging with UNISON to meet our shared ambition of investing in career development and preparing our staff for the future challenges social care faces.”