Will social workers fight or accept next year’s pay offer from councils?

    With the 2023-24 local government pay deal accepted after an eight-month-long dispute, are practitioners willing to fight again next year for a better offer?

    Photo by Community Care

    In early November, unions accepted this year’s local government pay offer for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, following an eight-month-long dispute.

    The pay rise is £1,925 for staff outside London earning up to £49,950, with a 3.88% hike for those on higher wages than that. Outer London staff will receive a £2,226 rise while colleagues in inner London will get a £2,352 hike up to a defined salary threshold.

    The deal is worth about 4-6% for social workers, despite unions asking for a 12.7% pay rise in February to exceed inflation, which was then about 10%.

    During the spring and summer, UNISON balloted its members on taking industrial action. But despite a positive vote in some areas, it rejected strike action in favour of a negotiated settlement with employers.

    The GMB carried out its own strike ballot in September and October but did not secure a mandate to strike. Unite was the only union that, following a ballot, started a campaign of local strikes, which is still ongoing.

    Divided priorities

    The length of the dispute means staff are getting their annual pay rise eight months after it was due – April 2023 – during which time many have struggled with the cost of living.

    It was the same story in 2022, when the pay deal – similarly worth £1,925 for most staff – was also agreed at the start of November.

    When asked whether they would fight for a better deal next year or opt for accepting a pay rise they deemed inadequate on time, opinions were divided.

    In a Community Care poll that amassed 441 votes, over half of respondents (57%) said that, come next April, they’d prefer to get their pay rise, “even if it’s not the best”.

    The rest (43%) said they would fight for a better deal, even if they didn’t succeed.

    Loss of trust in unions

    Commenting on this year’s deal, many social workers said their trust in unions had been considerably depleted by two years of “uncoordinated” pay negotiations.

    “Genuine question, when was the last time the three unions actually negotiated a meaningful increase to an original offer on a national level (not ad hoc or individual arrangements like at Wrexham or Newham),” asked one reader.

    “Two years back to back, both [times] taking eight-nine months to implement what was originally offered. I’m not sure the confidence would be there to reject anything offered in 2024-25, given the recent track record. I would love for them to work [in a] co-ordinated [way]and be ready to ballot by March/April collectively.”

    Another said that the eight-month wait had had dire effects on lower-paid social workers.

    “People needed this in April. They’ve achieved nothing other than placing lower and middle-paid workers in increased poverty. They should be ashamed of themselves. Here’s a plan, agree to the 2024-25 rise now at £1,925 again and stop messing with people’s financial lives.”

    “Shockingly uncoordinated approach year on year from supposedly nationwide unions, whose hierarchy seems completely out of touch with their membership,” added Sam Ryder.

    He suggested that if unions were now targeting the 2024-25 pay offer, they should take advantage of the time until April 2024 to strategise and draft responses in advance.

    Memberships at risk

    Employees on a travelator leading them to a black door that has the sign exit on the top.

    Photo by aleutie/AdobeStock

    Some social workers reported they were contemplating cancelling their union membership as a result.

    “I am seriously thinking about cancelling my membership because, [based on] the past two years, it looks like our next pay rise will be £1,925 and paid in December 2024,” said Dave Rigg.

    “Members are struggling. The unions need to get their acts together and fight for a fair pay rise for 2024.”

    “I am on the verge of cancelling [my membership],” said another practitioner. “All these months we’ve wasted and they haven’t stood together!!”

    Mark R, who revoked his membership last year, said he was glad as it had been “poor value for money”.

    “I don’t regret coming out one bit following two years of frustration at how the union dealt with a number of issues, both nationally and within the council I work for.”

    ‘If you don’t fight, you’ll always lose’

    However, other practitioners maintained that unions were needed more than ever – but they were only as strong as their members.

    “Can I just remind those who complain that every single member is the union? A union is only as strong as its members are prepared to be activists,” said Lin Newton.

    “Stay in the union, recruit new members, and get active. If you fight, you may lose; if you don’t fight, you’ll always lose!”

    Her thoughts were echoed by Joe, who argued that unions couldn’t do much if members didn’t come together and agree to strike.

    “[This is] quite sad for a profession that should promote social justice; it can’t even promote justice for those who work in the profession.”

    “The only reason we were offered £1,925 was because of the unions,” added Andy, another social worker. “If there weren’t any, we would probably have gotten 0% or £100-£200 a year before tax.”

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    7 Responses to Will social workers fight or accept next year’s pay offer from councils?

    1. Ani November 23, 2023 at 2:06 pm #

      So when is this rise due to materialise?

    2. Meg November 24, 2023 at 9:54 am #

      Sadly, any pay deal for social workers will always be determined by the much larger proportion of LA employees who are on the lower pay grades. These lump sum offers are much more beneficial to someone on the lowest scale point than someone higher up on the sale, as a percentage of their current salary. There will never be an incentive for them to strike therefore. These deals are vastly unfair and unethical- why should someone who is very highly qualified, making highly significant decisions daily, and paid accordingly be worthy of a lower percentage pay rise than someone in a less skilled/risky role? Other professionals would not stand for that- why do we?
      Oh, that would be because as a profession we have no professional body or representation speaking out for us. The SWU is a union in name only- unrecognised and with no pay negotiation rights. BASW is absolutely pointless. And Unison/Unite etc are organised for the benefit of the majority of LA employees, at the lower scale points rather than those at the other end. 🙁

    3. Grim November 24, 2023 at 6:55 pm #

      They should strike, because social workers have not had a real payrise in 15 years~. My payrise earlier this year, which I’ve not received yet, was a measly 3.5%. Inflation is at least 3x this.

      I’ve also noted my caseload has increased 20% with no additional supports and a reduction in supervision. My senior is absolutely swamped and tired too. How can I manage 57 cases to a decent standard? It is impossible, even working 12 hours per day.

      Not even 5 years into this career and I’m already looking to move on to something else because I’ve noticed I’m becoming jaded. I feel like my colleagues and I are treated as numbers by the higher ups.

      • A non e-mouse November 29, 2023 at 7:18 am #

        Join a union, become a union activist and organise in your workplace!
        It’s tiring and time consuming, but without people doing this we have no power to push back.

    4. Not My Real Name November 27, 2023 at 8:23 am #

      It can’t be said enough: you are the union and if you don’t agree to take strike action the union has no power to negotiate.

    5. A non e-mouse November 29, 2023 at 7:16 am #

      Unfortunately some Social Workers can be some of the least radical people working for local authorities despite social justice issues being a key part of our training. I have observed that many social workers are happy to toe the line of LAs in implementing increasingly authoritarian measures on service users and employees without providing pushback or counter-arguments.

      Without voting and actively campaigning for strike action, what negotiating power do the unions have?
      The government want people to blame others, including the unions for the effects of government policy – the article suggests that people are falling for this. Social workers should be able to see through this nonsense using their critical thinking skills – why aren’t they?

      Come on Social Workers – get alive! We started as a radical profession – it’s high time we revived this tradition.

    6. Laura November 29, 2023 at 11:18 pm #

      Im working 22.5 hours per week and I’ve got £31 per month extra after tax, pension and NI.. this is ridiculous!!. I’m thinking to cancelling my membership as they are not fighting for us.. in 2 years I’ve just got £60 pay rise .. what a joke !!!