Mental health social workers vote to strike over ‘chronic staffing issues’

UNISON members seeking pay boost to tackle retention issues beyond £1,000 annual payment offered by council

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

Mental health social workers have voted to strike over “chronic staffing issues” in their teams.

Barnet UNISON said 100% of those who voted backed a walkout on a 79% turnout, in a ballot conducted last month.

The union is now planning strike dates for the staff in the London borough’s north and south mental health teams and approved mental health professional (AMHP) service.

Loss of staff and lack of experience

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.

UNISON is calling for practitioners to receive a 20% market supplement on top of their pay to tackle the retention issues, in line with the 15% to 25% payments received by social workers in family services teams.

However, the council has offered £1,000 per year for the next two years to social workers, occupational therapists and team managers in adults’ services, including the mental health teams, which UNISON said was worth an additional 2.5% on average.

Staff ‘feel undervalued’ – union

The union’s branch secretary, John Burgess, said staff felt “undervalued, insulted, and angry” and were enduring high levels of stress.

“Social workers are voting with their feet. During the period of the strike ballot, we lost another social worker who chose to leave for a less stressful job in a university and more money,” he added. “If the council doesn’t act now to this crisis, then more staff are likely to leave and that will deepen the crisis within the workplace and impact on the services to service users.”

In response, the authority’s cabinet member for adult social care, Paul Edwards reiterated its current offer but said its door was “always open for further discussions”.

”’The cost-of-living crisis means that Barnet Council must find ways to help our residents in need and maintain services, at a time when our central government funding is not adequate to the situation we face. It is also affecting all our staff, including our social workers and those that work in mental health. Our employees are at the front line of supporting our vulnerable residents. We truly appreciate all the excellent work they do.

Council – ‘our door is always open’

“Balancing all these demands, – our service users and wanting to support all our staff – we have striven to offer good support and pay to our social workers, with salaries that benchmark well. We currently have a staff retention rate of 88%.

“We have proposed offering an additional £1,000 per year to all social workers, occupational therapists, senior practitioners and team managers across all social care teams – 185 staff.

“We are grateful for the dedication and commitment of all our staff including our mental health social workers and our door is always open for further discussions.”

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2 Responses to Mental health social workers vote to strike over ‘chronic staffing issues’

  1. IRIVIE, Sam September 8, 2023 at 3:29 pm #

    What you are doing is for every social worker
    Well done

  2. Anonymous September 9, 2023 at 5:08 am #

    Pay is just one side of the coin. Working conditions are just as important, for some, it’s more important. Setting the right balance between pay and pressure, while encouraging a positive work culture is essential.