Union calls on social workers to strike over council pay offer

UNISON opens industrial action ballot urging council staff to vote yes to walkouts over employers' £1,925 pay rise proposal

Man putting his vote with word Strike into ballot box on black background, closeup
Photo: New Africa/Adobe Stock

UNISON is calling on social workers and other council staff in England and Wales to back strikes after opening its industrial action ballot on this year’s council pay offer.

A yes vote could lead to walkouts by the union – which represents an estimated 40,000 social workers across the UK – this summer.

Fellow union Unite will start balloting members on industrial action shortly, while the third local government union, GMB, is also planning to do so.

The dispute centres on employers’ offer of a £1,925 rise for full-time staff outside London, £2,226 for those in outer London and £2,352 for those in inner London, pro rated for part-time workers. Higher paid council workers would get a 3.88% rise.

What is employers’ 2023-24 pay offer worth to social workers?

Newly qualified social workers

  • An NQSW working outside of London on pay point 23, earning £30,151, would see their pay rise by £1,925 or 6.4%.
  • An NQSW in outer London on the same pay point, earning £34,081, would see their pay rise by £2,226 or 6.5%.

Experienced social workers

  • An experienced social worker outside of London on pay point 32, earning £38,296, would see their pay rise by £1,925 or 5%.
  • An experienced social worker in outer London on the same pay point, earning £42,226, would see their pay rise by £2,226, or 5.3%.

NB The figures refer to staff working in councils covered by the National Joint Council for Local Government Services agreement in England and Wales. This group includes a large majority of councils with social services responsibilities.

While the three unions accepted an offer of the same magnitude last year, they have come out against it vigorously this time, arguing that it constitutes the latest in a series of real-terms pay cuts for council staff.

Inflation in the year to April 2023 was 8.7%, according to the government’s preferred consumer prices index (CPI) measure, though was 11.4% according to the unions’ favoured retail prices index (RPI) metric. The Bank of England expects CPI inflation to fall to 3.4% by April 2024.

The unions are claiming a rise of 12.7%, and Unite and GMB members rejected employers’ offer in consultative ballots that closed last month.

Union urges yes vote for strike action

UNISON, which has gone straight to balloting its members on industrial action, sent out postal voting papers to members in England and Wales last week, with a deadline for returning them of 4 July.

Addressing members, the union said that it understood that “taking action [was] a big step and may feel overwhelming when you have colleagues and service users who rely on you”.

However, it added: “Taking action will send a clear message to employers that you need a better pay rise that will actually help during the cost-of-living crisis.”

The union needs a 50% turnout by members in order to take action.

Employers’ offer ‘full and final’

When announcing the offer in February, employers described it as their “full and final” proposal.

The chair of the National Employers for local government services, Sian Goding, said at the time: “The National Employers are acutely aware of the additional pressure this year’s offer will place on already hard-pressed council finances, as it would need to be paid for from existing budgets. However, they believe their offer is fair to employees, given the wider economic backdrop.”

Meanwhile, council senior managers, excluding chief executives, have accepted employers’ offer of a 3.5% rise for 2023-24. The deal will apply to directors of children’s or adults’ services, assistant directors and heads of services in councils covered by the Joint Negotiating Committee for Chief Officers of Local Authorities agreement.


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9 Responses to Union calls on social workers to strike over council pay offer

  1. Sally June 2, 2023 at 8:56 am #

    Yes but “what about the children”?

    • Simon Cardy June 2, 2023 at 4:43 pm #

      It couldn’t be more about the children. You may know this but to avoid any doubt lets spell it out. Poor pay and conditiions has led to an increase in social work vacancy levels which in turn has led to an increase in the use of agency social workers – that in turn leads to children having more social workers. The more social workers a child has, the poorer the quality of service (relationships, consistency, delays in decision making etc). Social workers turn to agency work as the hourly rate of pay is better, which means they are in a sightly better position (in the short-term) to pay off a student-loan or meet say (rising) housing costs. VOTE YES!

  2. Lou Wright June 2, 2023 at 8:18 pm #

    It’s a no from me.

  3. Frasierfanclib1 June 4, 2023 at 12:33 pm #

    The difficulty for us with striking is that although we lose a.days pay, we still have to complete our work. Our absence will hardly be noticeable.

  4. David June 4, 2023 at 2:47 pm #

    Social Workers need to be prepared to strike I order to create the resources to protect children and support families

  5. Matthew June 4, 2023 at 6:28 pm #

    July the 4th ? I personally think this is a disgrace from the unions , offer was made in February , it’s taken this long to sort out a ballot , strike action won’t take place till probably September , agreement will be reached in April at the earliest , probably a two year pay deal with less back pay . And the unions will say it’s a win when in fact it will end up being a win for the government. The whole system needs a reboot including the unions that in my opinion are working for the government not the people who pay for their service .

  6. Linda Farrelly June 6, 2023 at 7:25 am #

    Most of the social workers I work with want their money now and would except the offer as striking for us is the last option anyone wants.The Unions will achieve nothing again except cause hard ship to the lower paid by delaying the pay rise when people need it.As for unions starting balloting members so late in the year causing further delays it’s shameful who are these unions working for.

  7. Craig June 13, 2023 at 10:13 am #

    Given that if you are a union member you are “these unions” the better question is what are you doing to make the unions work better for you? Ever organised a union meeting? Ever attended a union meeting? Ever submitted a motion for your union conference? Ever voted in a union election? Ever voted in a motion put forward by your union? I’m a union rep and if the apathy of union members ever reaches the level of snipes and moans from the sidelines I’d be a much happier and less frustrated one. Frankly get active or keep silent is my level now.

  8. Jamie June 15, 2023 at 1:51 pm #

    I have said it for years, social workers don’t need to strike but just work to rule, working only their contracted hours. The whole child care system would collapse in a few weeks. It keeps going on the goodwill and long hours of most managers and practitioners trying to get the work completed.