Mental health social workers consider striking over staffing levels

strike ballot word or concept represented by wooden letter tiles on a wooden table with glasses and a book
Photo: lexiconimages/Adobe Stock

By Dan Parton

Mental health social workers could strike over what their union has dubbed “chronic staffing issues” within their teams.

Barnet UNISON has applied to the union’s national industrial action committee to approve an industrial action ballot for members across the London borough’s north and south mental health teams and approved mental health professional (AMHP) service.

The union branch, which said the ballot would likely be approved, reported that nine practitioners had left the mental health teams this year, against a staffing complement of 22.

It also said the teams lacked permanent experienced staff, with four of the seven social workers on the south team being less than two years’ qualified and two of the others being locums.

Working conditions ‘unsafe’

Union members unanimously said their working conditions were unsafe and they had considered leaving the council recently, in response to a survey by the branch, it added.

The union’s key ask is for the council to extend its recruitment and retention policy (RRP), under which staff are given market supplements of up to 25% of salary,  to the mental health practitioners. The council has applied this to its family services social workers for the past six years.

However, Barnet UNISON said it had had no meaningful response from the council since lodging a dispute on the issue in March this year.

“In my 38 years working for Barnet Council we have never balloted social workers,” said Barnet UNISON branch secretary John Burgess. “The workforce is stressed out and feel that management are disrespectful and insensitive to what is needed.”

In response, a Barnet council spokesperson said the authority was “very appreciative of the dedication and hard work of practitioners in the mental health social work service”.

Council rejects call for extra payments

However, they added that the evidence did not support the introduction of RRP for these teams, with salary benchmarking showing that wages were in line with those of other outer London boroughs

The spokesperson added that the authority had created five additional permanent practitioner posts, which were currently being recruited to, to reduce waiting times and pressures in response to the increased demand.

AMHPs were also being given additional payments, they said.

However, Burgess said the authority had failed to produce its evidence against introducing RRP, despite repeated requests from the union and pledges from the authority to do so.

He acknowledged that one social worker and one assessment and enablement officer – a non-social work qualified role – were being recruited to for each of the north and south teams.

However, Burgess claimed this would simply replace staff previously funded by Covid-19 money who no longer worked on the teams.

“This is what comes from only looking at spreadsheets and not listening to the concerns raised by staff who understand what is happening on the ground,” he added.

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One Response to Mental health social workers consider striking over staffing levels

  1. John Barrett June 21, 2023 at 6:53 am #

    I am. Social worker 30 years post qualified. I have held many roles , approved and management. Salaries have been stuck and underpaying staff for years. I gave up perm work as I could not raise my family on the pay offered. I work the agency circuit to earn enough to raise a family. I work and I get paid, I don’t work and no pay, high risk . I would work perm with LA salaries were competitive. Workload is over the top, risk and reward don’t match. Threats of assault, being assaulted, intimidation, harassment from clients , all part of an exhausting, potentially unrewarding job. LA and NHS need to step up or face no staff!