A third group of social workers are to take strike action at a local authority over the impact of a pay and grading review.
Independent reviewing officers (IROs) and local authority designated officers (LADOs) have voted to join emergency duty service (EDS) staff and assistant team managers (ATMs) at Swindon council in withdrawing their labour.
IROs and LADOs will join ATMs in taking two days’ strike action per week for two months, from 27 February 2024.
The GMB, which represents the social workers, said they were in dispute about a pay gap of about £6,000 that had opened up between them and team managers at the authority as a result of the review.
The union said that, previously, LADOs, IROs and team managers were on the same grade and pay rates. However, team managers were upgraded as a result of the review, but IRO and LADOs’ pay has remained the same.
Pay policy apparently contrary to guidance
The change appears contrary to the government’s IRO handbook, which councils are expected to follow unless there are exceptional reasons for departing from it.
The handbook states: “The IRO should be an authoritative professional with at least equivalent status to an experienced children’s social work team manager.”
The dispute comes with the council’s children’s services seeking to improve from an inadequate Ofsted rating issued last year.
In its report, the inspectorate was critical of the quality and timeliness of children’s care plans and said IRO oversight of these had not been effective enough, though was improving.
Improvement targets following inadequate rating
Among its improvement plan targets are:
- Ensuring looked-after children’s plans are timely and effectively capture their specific needs by June 2024.
- Making sure children have a plan for permanence within four months of coming into care, with a reduction in the extent to which this issue is raised by IROs, by June 2024
- Strengthening IRO challenge on issues including suitability of accommodation, separation of siblings, drift and delay by July 2024.
In response to the positive strike vote, GMB branch secretary Andy Newman said: “Government guidance is that IROs should have the status of team managers.
“Not only [is the council’s action] unfair but it also reduces their authority and standing in their quality assurance role, meaning any poor practice is less likely to be effectively challenged.”
Strikes by EDS staff and assistant team managers
The EDS dispute was triggered by the removal of a payment from staff worth £8,400 annually for working unsocial hours, as a result of the pay and grading review.
The council has said that other changes it is making would leave EDS staff about £3,000 a year better off; however, the GMB has claimed that these are not guaranteed – a view Swindon rejects.
In relation to the ATMs, the GMB has claimed that, as a result of the review, the average gap in pay between ATMs and advanced social workers (ASWs) has narrowed. It said this meant ATMs’ additional responsibilities – including supervision and running case conferences – were not acknowledged in their salary.
Council defends pay review
In response to the disputes, a Swindon council spokesperson defended the review.
“The last time the council updated its pay and reward structure was 13 years ago,” he said. “This meant our offer had not kept pace with the market and we were struggling to recruit into some roles.”
“The new gradings were benchmarked with similar roles outside the organisation, and the majority of our staff saw their pay increase or stay the same,” the spokesperson added.
“We are always open to resolving disputes as our employees are valued members of our workforce. If we cannot agree a way forward and strike action does take place, we will take steps to ensure that the affected service is covered so as to ensure that there is minimal disruption to service users and we maintain the positive improvement work that has already taken place in children’s services.”
Newman said the GMB was seeking talks with the council mediated by conciliation body ACAS, though this was yet to be arranged.
The council spokesperson said it was open to talks but was not clear on what the GMB wanted to discuss.
In response, Newman said the causes of the disputes were clear.