Mental health social workers are voting on whether to strike over “chronic staffing” issues in their teams.
Barnet UNISON’s ballot of practitioners in the London borough’s north and south mental health teams, and its approved mental health professional (AMHP) service, started on 31 July, running until 1 September.
In June this year, the union branch 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.
Call for 20% boost to pay
To resolve the dispute, Barnet UNISON has called on the council to offer practitioners a 20% market supplement on top of their pay, just below the 25% received by social workers in its family services department.
The branch said mental health practitioners had rejected an offer – put to social workers, occupational therapists, lead practitioners and team managers across Barnet’s adults’ services – of annual £1,000 payments above salary over the next two years.
Barnet UNISON said this would be worth about 2.5% on average across the affected roles, though it added that it would be, separately, balloting members in adults’ services as a whole on the council’s offer.
‘Our door remains open’ – council leader
The council’s leader, Barry Rawlings said the cost of living crisis meant Barnet faced “competing demands” in supporting residents in need and maintaining services – with inadequate government funding – as well as addressing the impact of high inflation on staff.
He added: “In this situation, we seek a fair approach to recruitment and retention that recognises the pressures across all social work and occupational therapy teams.
“Salary benchmarking has shown we are very competitive compared to local authorities in general and our additional £1,000 recruitment and retention payment would place us at the very top end of the market range. Our door always remains open for further conversations with UNISON.”