Biggest social work union will not strike over local government pay despite positive votes for action

UNISON decides to work to resolve dispute with council employers over £1,925 offer, however, prospect of deal diminished as Unite announces strike dates and GMB plans industrial action ballots

pay key on keyboard
Photo: md3d/Fotolia

Should unions settle their pay dispute with councils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland?

  • Yes, we need our pay rise now and won't get a better offer (60%, 901 Votes)
  • No, they should keep fighting for a better deal (40%, 607 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,508

Loading ... Loading ...

The biggest social work union has decided not to call its members out on strike over this year’s local government pay settlement, despite positive votes for walkouts in some areas.

UNISON instead plans to work with fellow unions towards a negotiated settlement with the employers’ side of the National Joint Council for Local Government Services, whose remit covers most councils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

However, the prospects of a deal have been diminished after fellow union Unite announced its members would strike over the coming month in areas that voted to take action in recent ballots.

At the same time, the third union, GMB, plans to ballot members in some areas in September and October over taking industrial action.

Two of the three unions need to agree for a negotiated settlement with employers to go through.

Employers refuse to budge on ‘full and final’ offer

The news follows employers reiterating last week in a letter to unions that they would not budge on their “full and final” offer of a £1,925 rise for staff earning up to £49,950, and a 3.88% increase for those on higher salaries, for 2023-24.

Employers’ side secretary Naomi Cooke said leaders were  “acutely aware of the cost-of-living pressures [staff were] experiencing”, which was why they believed the pay award – which was due to come into force on 1 April 2023 – “should not be subject to yet further delays”.

UNISON’s head of local government, Mike Short, said: “Staff at a number of councils and schools in England and Wales backed industrial action. But many others were unable to reach the high threshold imposed by anti-union laws.

“UNISON has decided it wouldn’t be effective to ask workers to strike. Instead the focus is on working with other unions to resolve the dispute. It’s important for staff to get the pay rise they’re due as soon as possible.”

Leaders ‘must return to the negotiating table’

However, announcing Unite’s decision to take strike action, national officer Clare Keogh dubbed employers’ refusal to negotiate as “dismissive and patronising”.

Workers simply can’t make ends meet, yet employers are ignoring their plight,” she said.

“Local government employers need to get their heads out of the clouds and return to the negotiating table, to make an offer which begins to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.”

Unite is planning to take strike action in areas including Bath and North East Somerset, Cardiff, Coventry, Cumberland, Darlington, Gwynedd, Haringey, Newham, North Tyneside, Tower Hamlets, Sefton, Southwark, Warrington, Westminster, Wigan and Wrexham.


38 Responses to Biggest social work union will not strike over local government pay despite positive votes for action

  1. Helen August 24, 2023 at 8:14 am #

    So where does SWU come into this????

    • Anon August 25, 2023 at 5:35 pm #

      I recently spoke with the SWU about another matter. They helpfully reminded me that they do not take part in collective bargaining.

    • Michael August 25, 2023 at 10:19 pm #

      SWU are actively blocked from negotiations by UNITE, UNISON & GMB at every opportunity. They have blocked SWU joining the TUC on more than one occasion. SWU are much better placed to negotiate for better conditions, pay only being one. Encourage all social workers to join SWU, with more members the 3 generalist unions and employers cannot deny recognition

  2. Not My Real Name August 25, 2023 at 9:08 am #

    As a UNISON steward I’m about ready to quit over this.

    People say ‘the union doesn’t do anything’ yet when we try to do something the membership doesn’t support us. I think people have forgotten how unions work.

    • Joe Bloggs August 25, 2023 at 3:55 pm #

      Because most of us aren’t saying you don’t do anything.

      Most of us just want the payrise that is being offered an no more delays.

      • Linda Young August 27, 2023 at 3:25 pm #

        I will fully support strike action for social workers. It is a disgrace that we are not managed under central govt like other professions and left under local government. The majority of us would not accept the pay rise on offer and need and deserve a well earned increase following years of doing without.

    • Laura August 25, 2023 at 4:03 pm #

      You have known about this since February and chose to only consult from September to October. That’s why people have lost faith and trust in you. The cause is valid, the unions timescales are not!

    • Jay August 26, 2023 at 11:30 am #

      I genuinely think more members would’ve voted for strike action if the unions hadn’t dithered for months ‘confirming their data’, it feels like momentum has been lost and people are just desperate for their pay rises now.

    • Linda Young August 27, 2023 at 3:13 pm #

      I will fully support strike action for social workers. It is a disgrace that we are not managed under central govt like other professions and left under local government.

    • AustinDays August 29, 2023 at 4:44 pm #

      I quit being a Union member long time ago cause Union never actually did anything for me.
      I mean, When was the last time Unions actually managed to negotiate a decent increase in a better pay deal for their members? I cant think of when myself. It was that far back.

      Unions will loose even more members for taking so long to resolve this years claim. They’ll not get a better pay offer as per usual and if they manage to it will be to benefit the higher paid at the loss of the lower workers.

      The £1925 this years pay increase will give me about 8% which is higher than current Inflation and if Union bosses weren’t happy with this offer they should have acted promptly and done something about it rather than kicking the can down the road with ballot after ballot hoping for a better deal.

      I agree workers have been underpaid for far too long but Unions cant expect the employers to come up with a pay rise to make up 20 odd years of pay losses.

      It’s not realistic and It’s just not happening!

    • G-man September 4, 2023 at 11:33 am #

      Arent unions run by members, I thought that were democracy? To take strike action a positive mandate of 80% of membership is only way employer will listen, but thats just my opinion.

  3. Misty August 25, 2023 at 9:22 am #

    Typical, just typical

  4. Eric August 25, 2023 at 9:41 am #

    The NJC (National Joint Council) which negotiates with employers only comprises the Unison, GMB and Unite. Remember, these negotiations are for Local Government workers of which Local Authority social workers are just a section of.

  5. Dave August 25, 2023 at 10:51 am #

    “The employers are acutely aware of the pressures therefore the rise “should not be subject to yet further delays””. That argument would be used to give us 50p tomorrow – as if we will be bought by rubbish increase just because we get it immediately.
    Typical patronising approach from employers. The working class were never given anything, we have had to fight for every inch.
    I will hold out for further.

  6. Rob August 25, 2023 at 11:25 am #

    It’s appalling how long this dispute is taking by the Unions. The offer was put to them back in February, yet GMB have not yet even held a ballot on industrial action nearly 7 months on.

    Many of my colleagues, like myself, are perfectly happy with the pay offer. Yet we have to wait for unions to dispute it before we can receive it. People need the money NOW!

    • Not My Real name August 25, 2023 at 2:23 pm #

      “Many of my colleagues, like myself, are perfectly happy with the pay offer”

      Great, really happy for you, so glad you are not struggling to pay the rent and eat.

      But please, do every now and again, spare five minutes for those of us who are. Empathy is supposed to be a Social Work value.

    • Wolfie August 25, 2023 at 10:08 pm #

      It’s an appalling pay offer compared to other public services. Campaigning amongst all trade unions (more than unite unison and GMB represent social workers) for better working conditions, to include pay, requires a long and hard fight. £1900 is insulting

    • Linda Young August 27, 2023 at 3:16 pm #

      The people need to take a stand now. And the Unions need to support social workers or i am afraid many of my colleagues will leave their respective unions.

  7. Brad Freebird Rivers August 25, 2023 at 12:15 pm #

    Unison are gutless and pointless. Who do they really serve?

    • Wolfie August 25, 2023 at 10:11 pm #

      Large generalist unions are very much in bed with senior management and government. While there are some union staff trying to represent their members overall strategically they thrive on power and self importance – reinforced by their collusion with organisations over workers

  8. Janet August 25, 2023 at 3:46 pm #

    The offer was put forward in Feb, if ballots haven’t yet taken place it’s just reeks of imcompetance

  9. Anon August 25, 2023 at 5:33 pm #

    Genuine question to readers: why are most of you willing to accept the current offer and just deal with it?

    It’s a real terms cut and they are preying on our delicate situations to go along with it and happily accept.

    This offer was ridiculous last year and moreso now. If we do not strike with how inflation has been and take any sort of action. We will never have a leg to stand on.

    What more has to happen?

    • G August 25, 2023 at 10:14 pm #

      National collective stance across all unions, work to rule will have greater impact than strikes and longer term benefits

    • Kerry August 26, 2023 at 8:27 pm #

      Because it is taking so long and people have bills and mortgages to pay and mouths to feed.

      Now if, after the offer was given in February, there was a ballot in March on whether to accept and industrial action from April, you might find more people willing to hold off and strive for higher pay. However when they have been paying higher mortgage rates for 5 months, astronimical food prices, not to mention the energy prices, people just want to be able to survive.

      Losing your house v’s an extra 2% that people will have to wait a year for – not rocket science. Also those of us with any brains are acutely aware that pay rises just add to cost of living increases and therefore the payrise offered and anything more just gets swallowed up.

    • Bobby August 28, 2023 at 7:18 pm #

      We aren’t but like most have said the offer was made in February what have our unions actually been doing in that time. The unions need to get round the table and time table effectively. We need the money now and they need to start working towards the next year increase. Summers nearly over so gas bills will be going up, this should have been resolved and tabled at least during a time in the year when people are struggling less. As we get closer to winter people are willing to take anything no matter how small.

  10. Anon August 26, 2023 at 7:10 am #

    Offer put in Feb and Unison took ages to get anything moving. Seriously questioning my membership over this fiasco. Although, this pay offer (notice I say pay offer, because it’s not a rise in anyway) is one of the best in recent years, it’s another pay cut after 13 years of brutal cuts to our sector. I voted to strike, I understand why some are happy to take this because people are desperate for the cash and need it in their pockets. We are worth so much more than this. The Government has gotten away with slowly pickpocketing us by not giving even giving us inflation since 2010. This isn’t just about pay for me, it’s about standing up for our public services.

  11. Wellington August 26, 2023 at 7:48 pm #

    I get that people can’t pay bills and want the payrise now. I also remember that Barristers recently threatened to strike and were given a 11% payrise. Why isn’t working to rule considered? How many social workers only work 37hrs a week? There is no overtime like Police or Prison service. How many areas would function without people willing to work outside contracted core hours?

  12. Paul G August 27, 2023 at 8:13 am #

    I wonder how much interest local authorities gain in interest in not paying out pay rises 6/7/8/9 months down the line

  13. Linda Young August 27, 2023 at 3:18 pm #

    If we do not see the unions support us we may as well leave the union.

  14. Anon August 27, 2023 at 5:29 pm #

    I find it absolutely appalling that some unions are just looking into ballot action now when this offer has been on the table since February! That is over six months ago. Many of us have delicate scenarios, mortgages that have gone up significantly in the summer for example and consider the pay offer sufficient to put us back in safe territory. The delays by the unions are just complete incompetence and if strike action is not to be taken then they should be focused on ensuring members get paid as quickly as possible!

  15. Annie August 28, 2023 at 9:48 am #

    We all need to leave the unions who like listening to the sound of their own voice and join Unite who seem like the only union with a backbone

  16. No Way Jose September 5, 2023 at 3:31 pm #

    I was warned as a new starter not to join the union because they very rarely protect the worker or actually do anything bar take money and after nearly 10 years in Unison, the point was well and truly made!!! They did absolutely NOTHING to help me and I ended up leaving. Over 10 years later and I’m still sick to the back teeth. We need a pay offer to be accepted or refused within a few weeks of being offered during a cost of living crisis – not 6/7 months later!!!!! It’s not just precious social workers that this affects!!! All local government work their arses off for less than they deserve but everyone keeps banging on about social workers who are on a pretty good wage!!!!

  17. Zoe September 6, 2023 at 7:48 pm #

    I wasn’t expecting anything after last year so I think the £1,925 is more than fair. Local Authorities don’t have endless pots of money so I don’t know where the Unions think they are going to get 12% from? Do they want to bankrupt all Councils like Birmingham Council?

    • David Hill September 17, 2023 at 10:31 am #

      I totally agree, they are effectively blocking a pretty decent pay offer now, so I have now quit the union something I never thought I would do in my lifetime ! The ways things are going local authorities will not even be able to pay the original offer let a lone anything higher! Come on stop blocking this and let us have the money we need now not next summer!! What have the unions been doing all summer?

  18. Joe Cooper September 9, 2023 at 1:18 pm #

    For get the pay rise just pay us over time we will all be millionaires by the end of the year!

  19. Paul Jones September 17, 2023 at 1:11 am #

    Please people just stop working over your contracted hours! Please just stop. You are contributing to this problem and devaluing our whole profession. You are effectively shooting yourself and everyone else in the foot. Please have some self respect or if you can’t, at least have some respect for your colleagues and your profession. I’ve previously had colleagues who have worked 50+ hours while in theory working 37. Yet I have always maintained my contracted hours. The result, it looks like I am not pulling my weight because I am not achieving 50 hours of work in my 37 hours and when those staff go off sick or leave we only get cover or replacement for 37 hours. Anyone who is doing this is destroying the profession and continuously devaluing themselves and their colleagues. You really are not a hero for doing this, you may think you are but you are truly not.

  20. Retiring September 19, 2023 at 11:34 am #

    The unions seem to be a law unto themselves. They would move a lot quicker if everyone stopped paying their subscriptions.
    We are paying for their incompetence and inability to keep their own house in order. Balloting my a*** they haven’t a clue.
    People want and need their money now. Their biased slant on how people have voted to strike has completely distorted the whole situation. Better to have ‘fessed up’ and admitted that they couldn’t get the support they wanted.
    Thankfully I won’t have to participate in such a debacle ever again. I truly hope sense prevails and save a lot of people even more hardship than they deserve by resolving speedily.

  21. matt September 20, 2023 at 12:11 pm #

    Listen to yourselves….leave the union….well how else will you be supported around pay and conditions ?

    You actually think government wouldn’t take advantage of that situation and yourselves ?

    Seriously seriously pathetic !