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.