Social worker and OT pay dispute remains unresolved following multiple strikes

UNISON says it is 'deeply disappointed' by council's failure to make offer to staff in dispute over pay inequalities with children's social workers, but continues dialogue with authority

South Gloucestershire Council adult social care strike April 2023
UNISON members on the picket line outside South Gloucestershire Council's main office (credit: South Gloucestershire UNISON)

A dispute over inequalities in pay between adults’ and children’s practitioners at a local authority remains unresolved after staff took strike action over it earlier this year.

About 60 adult social workers and occupational therapists at South Gloucestershire Council staged walkouts over six days between April and June 2023 in protest at the fact that they were not receiving market supplements paid to their children’s colleagues.

In a dispute that started last summer, they and their union, UNISON, have argued that not only are the payments inequitable but the recruitment and retention challenges faced by children’s services applied equally to adults’ services at the authority.

What is the dispute about?

The dispute relates to payments for social workers, advanced and senior social workers in children’s services at South Gloucestershire, involving:

  • A £3,000 lump sum for recruits who have already passed their assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) on successful completion of their probation.
  • A £3,000 annual payment for those with two years’ service with the council.

Neither of these are available to adults’ social workers or OTs.

No offer made to staff

Since the strikes, UNISON and the council – whose leadership changed from Conservative to a Liberal Democrat-Labour coalition following elections in May – have held talks to resolve the dispute.

However, the union said that, despite “a more constructive approachfrom the new council administration, it had not made staff an offer to boost their pay and practitioners were now quitting the authority over the issue.

“UNISON representatives from the social work and occupational therapist teams have held several meetings with managers and provided strong evidence that not only are they paid less than colleagues within South Gloucestershire, but below the rates in neighbouring councils as well.

Union ‘deeply disappointed’

“While the talks have taken place, a significant number of social workers and occupational therapists have left the council or indicated their intention to do so.

“Given the urgency of the situation, it has been deeply disappointing that South Gloucestershire’s senior leadership team have still not made an offer on the basis of the evidence their staff have already presented.”

However, the council said it did not accept the case for adults’ staff receiving market supplements.

The council remains in continued dialogue with our valued social worker and occupational therapy colleagues in adult social care and their union,” said a spokesperson for South Gloucestershire.

“In relation to this dispute, we are operating within the parameters of our market supplement guidance, which requires evaluation of clear evidence that is not yet fully available.”

Social workers and OTs ‘willing to engage’

UNISON said that social workers and OTs were still committed to resolving the dispute through dialogue.

The union spokesperson said staff were “willing to continue to engage in good faith over the coming weeks” through its negotiating committee, adding: “If the council make a reasonable offer to resolve the situation, all members of UNISON will have a vote on whether or not to accept it and end the dispute.

“But if it becomes clear that their employer is stalling for time and not serious about reaching a fair resolution, the committee will consult with colleagues on taking further strike action.”

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4 Responses to Social worker and OT pay dispute remains unresolved following multiple strikes

  1. Calum August 25, 2023 at 4:22 am #

    Good on em!

  2. A Man Called Horse August 25, 2023 at 12:02 pm #

    Terrible pay for LA Adult Social Workers with huge pressure on staff all of the time. Get ready for part 2 Austerity under the Tories, sorry the Labour & Lib Dem’s all the same all ultra nasty. Doctors told to take a hike, NHS Workers starved into going back to work. Social workers are just not valued. Government & public don’t like social workers and workers too weak to B win this one I’m afraid. Back to work now before we call in the police.

  3. James August 25, 2023 at 9:01 pm #

    I think we have to be realistic and recognises the statutory duties and pressures in children’s services far surpass that of adult services. I would imagine, given the opportunity, all of those adult social workers / OTs would refuse to work in children’s services given the pressures that come with it.

    • Child SW August 31, 2023 at 2:42 pm #

      Well said. When a vulnerable adult hits the headlines for being abused etc, their families get most of the targeted hate for failing them. When a child’s case hits the headlines – it’s how crap the social workers were and they’re to blame for not preventing it. It really is two very different sides of the system for blame and also abuse towards workers by service users / families. Adult care is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit to but not retention, but vacancy rates across the UK and numbers of practitioners are not as volatile as in children’s services as a general market and turnover in children’s always has been high.

      I’ve seen many colleagues leave children’s and go to adults and say how much better their work / life balance and case loads were; I’ve never experienced Adult SW’s coming to childrens and staying for more than 6-12 months.