UNISON members back industrial action in some councils over pay offer

Union waiting on results of Unite strike ballot before deciding on next steps

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

UNISON members have backed taking industrial action at some councils over this year’s local government pay deal for social workers and other staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

However, the union, which represents an estimated 40,000 social workers across the UK, is waiting on the results of a similar ballot conducted by Unite, which concludes on 28 July, before deciding what to do.

Under trades union legislation, all industrial action ballots require 50% of union members to vote, with a majority in favour, for a strike or action short of a strike to proceed.

UNISON said it “passed this turnout threshold in a number of employers, but most of these were smaller employers”.

On its future plans, the union said: “We appreciate this causes some delay for members in moving on from the ballot, but under the circumstances we know branches will understand and bear with us.”

The unions have rejected council employers’ offer of a £1,925 rise for staff earning up to £49,950 in councils covered by the National Joint Council for Local Government Services, which constitute the majority of authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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. A main grade practitioner on pay point 28, earning £34,723, would see their wages rise by 5.5%,

Those earning above £49,950 would get a 3.88% hike, and council leaders have said this is their “full and final” offer.

However, UNISON, Unite and fellow union GMB have called for a 12.7% rise, in reflection of persistently high rates of inflation over the past year.

According to the government’s preferred consumer prices index measure, inflation was 7.9% in the year to June 2023 and has been above 7% since February 2022, reaching a high of 11.1% in October last year.


34 Responses to UNISON members back industrial action in some councils over pay offer

  1. Mark July 26, 2023 at 1:51 pm #

    NHS staff got an increase and a lump sum, we should get the same. And whilst they’re at it they should increase our annual leave to the same as those in the NHS, and give us the same pay scales and benefits. We continue to be treated less favourably for doing the same job!

    • Harvey Campbell July 27, 2023 at 2:36 pm #

      Think you’ll find NHS annual leave is less generous and the standard contracted hours are 37.5 per week rather than 35. It’s just different grass!

      • Chris July 28, 2023 at 8:13 am #

        I’ve worked for councils for 15 years and have always been contracted to 37.5 hours..

      • Mark July 28, 2023 at 1:18 pm #

        NHS get 33 days, local authorities get 31. Local authority hours are 37 where I work.

        NHS also get access to car lease scheme and a while host of other things, we get nothing in local authorities.

        • Shaun August 1, 2023 at 7:08 pm #

          It depends which LA you work for Mark. Most LAs have a full time week of 37 hours. Different LAs have done different things with concessionary and extra stat days that are leave days on top of annual leave. Most NhS staff don’t have the equivalent of statutory and concessionary days, so we end up with a day or two more leave per year. In terms of car leasing, various LAs offer affiliate schemes where you have offers for car leasing or salary sacrificing to buy a car. In a lot of LAs you can buy extra annual leave. I am not saying things are rosey and happy in LAs, it could be much better. However if we are comparing with the NHS we need to consider everything.

  2. TiredSocialWorker July 27, 2023 at 12:13 am #

    While we continue to be lumped in with other council.staff by Unison we don’t stand.a chance.

    • Socialist Worker July 27, 2023 at 11:18 am #

      Are we not stronger together? Other council workers are just as important as we are and deserve the same increase in wage given they face the same issue of rising inflation. I’m sure the system would like us to fight each other for position in the hierarchy but if we use our collective power we may be better armed to fight the forces that really oppress us and demand conditions that benefit us all.

    • Council Staff August 2, 2023 at 7:26 pm #

      Wrong attitude!

  3. Single Dad LA Worker July 27, 2023 at 3:19 pm #

    Slightly misleading (or just ill informed)… Unison only has a legal mandate for strike for circa 10,000 members on a disagrregated basis. This reflects around 2.9% of eligible members that could’ve voted. They also only had less than 1/3 of eligible members vote. They need to stop trying to skew this ’75/85% of people want to strike’ narrative; it’s not true. If people felt that strongly they would’ve voted – a nil return is effectively a vote against striking. (or a very poorly ran ballot – which is the union’s issue).

    GMB have already rejected the offer, as have Unite. Unite are balloting for strike mandate (closed earlier this week). I imagine GMB will only ballot for strike action is Unite’s ballot supports striking.

    Unison went straight to a strike ballot as they thought this would strengthen their negotiating position if they had the mandate, but this plan has blown everything to pieces by such a poor turnout and result.

    If Unite doesn’t get the strike vote; then the 3 unions need to stop messing about and either get into the NJC/LGA for negotiation or just blooming accept the offer to get the pay in our pockets now.

    They’re holding the rest of us to ransom over some false ‘we have the support of our members’ rhetoric; when they don’t… just a very small pocket of 2.9%!

    • Wolfie July 28, 2023 at 11:31 am #

      Well said. Straight to it. There are negotiations which can take place prior to strike, and which are likely to have longer lasting effect than simply a pay rise. Improvement of working conditions, to include pay, might demonstrate employer and government responsibility for duty of care (entirely neglected for many SWs).

      It would be good to see willingness from these larger unions to work with specialist professional union, such based SWU, who are better placed to negotiate meaningful changes.

      • Alison August 15, 2023 at 9:34 am #

        Are there any updates on this at all? Everything I read says waiting for Unite ballot to end in July but then ot just seems to have gone silent.

        • Bob August 20, 2023 at 11:57 am #

          Unison want to accept the offer. Unite are moving forward with strike action (I believe) and GMB are now holding strike ballots until the end of October. It’s going to drag on for another two months at least

    • Steve August 19, 2023 at 5:19 pm #

      Thank God some Councils have opted out of NJC and do their own thing. Our offer is 6%. Not brilliant but better this year. Not accepted yet though.

  4. Citizen Smith July 27, 2023 at 4:30 pm #

    Won’t make an ounce of difference , unions have no power anymore .

  5. Not My Real Name July 28, 2023 at 11:23 am #

    I was initially sure we’d all vote for strike action, but then I checked. Most of my team have partners with better paid jobs and so aren’t that badly off, another has no mortgage or rent as they inherited and 40% of our team didn’t vote as they don’t exist; their posts are empty. As I seem to be the only Social Worker I know actually trying to live off the salary I may have been the only one to vote for strike action.

  6. Westie July 28, 2023 at 3:25 pm #

    You strike may get a extra 1% loss a fews day pay so lost out all round mit as well get in pay packet so it can be taxed. And go towards the high cost of heating etc.

  7. Lin Newton July 28, 2023 at 4:00 pm #

    Below inflation therefore ANOTHER pay cut pluse it really does need mentioning that food inflation is a huge 18+% and rising. Nothing on workloads so with Hard Poverty, homelessness, coupled with police no longer attending mental health call outs nothing is going to shift anytime soon.
    Unison nationally did an appalling job of getting the vote out and in my branch it was 30% but of those voting 70% saying yes to strike action.
    This result doesn’t just fail LG workers but all those people who totally need a system change brought about by trades union activists.
    What with Unison and the teacher union leaders recommending acceptance of the continuing erosion of public services I smell a rat, a Sir Kid Starver rat leaning on right of centre unions

    • Steve August 19, 2023 at 5:22 pm #

      The whole of our pay isn’t used for food so a call for that isn’t really realistic in high inflation years. A small pay rise when inflation is very low is reasonable though which we don’t always get.

  8. Paul July 31, 2023 at 10:11 am #

    More pay will result in more staffing cuts, just accept the offer

    • Jjay August 8, 2023 at 12:12 pm #

      I agree, strike is lost days all work has to be caught up on and we lose the pay they are fighting for

  9. Oldfield July 31, 2023 at 1:23 pm #

    I check regularly for updates, why? I left unison, waste of time. For those that are not party to, the actions and believe me I understand people’s rights, choices…( this idea it’s a pay cut! ).. well I’d just like my money, my rise.. and generally a good 6-12months later we get it. I’d like it when it’s due.Yes we had austerity, yes we didn’t get any rises.. move on..theirs worse people off out there.. I had 6% last year! 2% year before.. why can’t we receive our money, the offer we get every April, in the year that it’s due. Any union (and member ) then if thats not what they want and want to try for more do so, and any additional increase through action be topped up.( later) it’s not difficult. Always a waiting game, for those that have opted not to be part of the union ( or left) because the cost per month membership makes a difference to their lives, food on table, heat on in winter. Thanks

  10. John July 31, 2023 at 3:28 pm #

    Expecting councils to balance the books when they have responsibility for a bloated runaway social care budget is reckless and irresponsible. The demand on social care is not what it was 15-20 years ago; Councils cannot be expected to deal with it anymore when the NHS can report an overspend. As a result of this, any more pay rise will mean further cuts to staff and services as it will come from existing budgets and they have to prioritise front line critical services.

    Unison can’t do an awful lot other than just delay the process and make it look it they are doing something to justify their existence.

    But the root cause of all of these problems is the Conservative Party. they have had almost 15 years to look at these issues since 2010 and have just left councils and public services with sticking plasters, rotting, and it wasn’t until covid came along that they started to realise how much we need them. Too late, get them out.

  11. Logan July 31, 2023 at 7:13 pm #

    There is a disparity between nhs and social care. I am a health care professional and worked in the nhs for 18 years the pay, sick leave, holiday entitlement is higher than social care. I have work for social care and work full time 37 hours. We should be treated equally with nhs professionals. The work I did in nhs is same and the pressures are the same. A lot of pressure being passed across to social care.

  12. Nathan August 2, 2023 at 7:23 am #

    All this faffing about and we could have had the extra money from the original offer in our pockets from April when inflation was at its highest.

  13. Kayleigh August 3, 2023 at 6:50 pm #

    Any idea when a decision on pay rise is likely to happen? and when we will receive money if there’s no industrial action

  14. Colin August 4, 2023 at 9:57 am #

    Good question, when is the next update ? Would rather the back pay now rather than in 5 months . Just get on with it

  15. Get realistic August 4, 2023 at 12:53 pm #

    Personally I think the £1,925 is a fair and reasonable offer up to approx. SCP 22.

    From SCP 23 upwards I think negotiating using the precedent set with the 6.5% agreement for teachers should be the negotiation target, given the largest majority of harder to fill and retain roles; including qualified / care roles are from around SCP 23/25. So a fixed £1,925 rise below SCP 23 (ish) and 6.5% for everything above would be what I personally would aim for.

    With limited extra funding, and very few ways for LA’s to increase revenue / income generation, whilst also needing balanced books each year unlike the NHS. An inflation matching (or anywhere near) is not likely and we need to be more realistic given one of the largest unions have failed to secure a sufficiently large mandate for strike action and this will also now be in the NJC / LGA favour.

    I think the above would offer those most worse off a financial boost between 9.42%-6.54% and then as you approach the skills shortage and retention issue roles, a 6.5% uplift to keep more competitive, especially where there are also roles like-for-like in the private sector.

    Other things like mileage allowances, working hours and annual leave could then make the total reward package more palatable and attractive for local government working and attracting/retaining skills and talent.

    Don’t get me wrong, I need as much as possible (single dad of two struggling on a mortgage that’s doubled!) – but I also need and love my current job and also need a rise now, not 6-9 months from now when I’ve lost my home or run up credit debts that further outstrip any pay rise!

    • River23 August 21, 2023 at 6:13 pm #

      I agree to absolutely everything you have said

  16. Unknown August 7, 2023 at 7:09 am #

    Agree. I am an Occupational Therapist in social care 15 years in and every day i think of calling it a day. The pay is awful and responsibilities are mountain high, huge waiting lists etc lots of OTs are going into locum work due to differences in pay. They need to look after permanent staff and stop wasting money on other unnecessary things

  17. Jules August 17, 2023 at 6:59 am #

    My colleagues and I were all more than happy with the lunp sum, it seemed fair. We had years without a payrise at all and now we are getting a fair offer the Union want to fight against it.
    Local Authorities are all struggling. The public are also struggling where do Unions think more money will come from?!
    When there is a rise on the table they still argue it and we dont see any of the rise until November/December! Unfortunately most of us could do with the extra now
    For me personally it would equate to 7.5% which is a good rise! Yes I still feel under valued because we didnt have rises when the minimum wage was increasing so the differencial was drastically reduced however this amount seems fair this year.

    • Simone August 18, 2023 at 7:15 pm #

      I completely agree. We need the funds now. Stop messing around in what will only equate to very little extra.

    • Jmc August 22, 2023 at 8:20 am #

      I cannot agree with your argument. Yes a 7.5% pay increase would be great despite it being a real terms pay cut. However on my wage my pay increase would be just under 4.5% so a larger pay cut and all without any increments because I have been on the top of my payscale for years.

  18. Jmc August 22, 2023 at 12:09 pm #

    I cannot agree with your argument. Yes a 7.5% pay increase would be great despite it being a real terms pay cut. However on my wage my pay increase would be just under 4.5% so a larger pay cut and all without any increments because I have been on the top of my payscale for years.

  19. Mark D Harrison August 24, 2023 at 12:39 pm #

    Regardless of pay scale everyone should get the same % increase otherwise you’re eroding the differential between grades. You are graded for a reason.