Social workers to strike until New Year over removal of unsocial hours payments

Emergency duty service staff to follow two-week walkout with 48 further days of action in protest at loss of estimated £700 a month as union accuses council of unlawful plan to cover service with agency workers

Post-it note on a table with the word 'STRIKE' written on it
Photo: Markus Mainka/Fotolia

Social workers plan to take strike action until the New Year in protest at the removal of their unsocial hours payments.

GMB said that the seven emergency duty service staff at Swindon council would follow a two-week walkout starting next Thursday (31 August) with 48 further days of strike action, covering every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until the end of the year.

The union said the extension was due to the council not being able to negotiate before the start of next week’s strike because all relevant staff were on holiday.

Social workers will take a fortnight of strike action from next week in protest at the removal of their unsocial hours payments.

The union said the seven social workers and managers would be about £700 a month worse off due to the authority’s decision to cut the 20% top-up from 1 September, on the back of a pay and grading review.

It said the cut would force staff to leave the authority, with other nearby councils offering unsocial hours payments for emergency duty work, which involves providing out-of-hours cover for child protection, adult safeguarding and mental health crises.

‘Unlawful’ plan to use agency staff

With the strike days depriving the EDS of all its staff, the GMB accused the council of planning to cover the service with agency staff, which it said was unlawful.

Regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003 prevents agencies from supplying workers to perform duties normally carried out by staff taking industrial action.

Though the government sought to remove this provision last year, the High Court quashed its amendment to the regulations in a judgment last month, upholding the agency worker ban.

GMB branch secretary Andy Newman said Swindon had confirmed to the union that it planned to use agency staff currently deployed in children’s services to cover the EDS.

“We were really shocked to learn that Swindon Borough Council is intending to break the law by using agency workers to undermine lawful industrial action by their own staff.”

“It is a criminal offence to supply agency workers to break a strike and I have spoken on the phone with the agency and also sent them an email explaining the law,” he added.

The Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, based within the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, is responsible for enforcing the legislation though its policy is only to pursue prosecutions in cases of “sustained and wilful non-compliance).

Swindon council declined to comment on the GMB’s claim.

Social workers ‘forced to strike’

EDS staff voted unanimously to strike last month, but the GMB said it held off on taking action pending talks to resolve the dispute.

However, the union claimed that the council had failed to respond with new proposals by 11 August, as it had pledged, leaving the GMB with “no choice other than to call strike action”.

Newman added: “The last thing that social workers want to do is to take strike action, but they are being forced into this drastic step due to a planned pay cut.

“At the talks with Swindon Borough Council officers, GMB was surprised by the lack of urgency from the employers, who are not even offering pay protection, which is the usual mechanism of continuing to pay a higher salary for a transition period after a pay-cut.

“Already many of the staff are looking for other jobs, many are stressed and feeling unwell, and GMB has even heard from social workers saying that they are afraid that the financial worry may be impacting their work.”

He called for the council to “get serious and negotiate a solution to this problem”.

Council ‘disappointed’ over walkout

In response, a Swindon council spokesperson said: “We are disappointed the seven employees have chosen to take this action.

“Recently, the organisation went through a process where it re-evaluated job roles to introduce a more fair and equitable pay and reward offer that reflects modern market rates.”

It said this had been done in negotiation with UNISON, the recognised union at Swindon.

“All employees have had the opportunity to challenge the outcome and we’re working through those processes,” the spokesperson added.

“We will continue to work with the employees affected to find a solution and we won’t be providing further details in the media.”

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3 Responses to Social workers to strike until New Year over removal of unsocial hours payments

  1. Bobby August 24, 2023 at 1:40 pm #

    Apparently South Gloucestershire Council pay 26% to theirs not far from Swindon according to this advert on CC

  2. SociableSocialWorker August 25, 2023 at 9:52 am #

    Fully behind these EDT workers. EDT is a tough gig indeed, plays havoc with circadian rhythms/health and one’s personal/social life. Perhaps local authorities have forgotten how/why EDTs came into being….largely as a response to not everyone wanting to do standby…..and the staff/union/employer disputes that arose from that many years back. This local authority may think they are saving money, but it will backfire in lots of ways is my prediction. Look after your EDT folk….invariably very experienced and knowledgeable staff who don’t mind (and may prefer) the unsociable hours….but don’t deprive them of the additional unsociable hours pay that shift workers should receive.

  3. Christian Kerr August 25, 2023 at 10:10 am #

    Well well well, who could’ve predicted the parasytical recruitment industry would lend itself to breaking lawful strike action by permanent social workers?

    This is no less an attack on an important pillar of healthy democratic dissent and further evidence that recruitment agencies benefit from instability and division in the sector.

    Will the recruitment industry lobbyists, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, so keen to present the industry as a positive force for good in the sector, oppose this?

    We shouldn’t hold our collective breath.