Social workers and social care staff will take three months of strike action in a dispute over changes to their pay, following a positive industrial action vote last month.
Out-of-hours practitioners at Wiltshire Council will stage walkouts every weekend from 16 February to 19 May due to reductions in the payments they receive for working at unsocial times.
The action will make Wiltshire the fifth council in England in which social workers have taken industrial action in the past 12 months.
Twenty four of the 25 staff in the South West authority’s emergency duty service (EDS) and integrated front door (IFD) team will be downing tools, said their union, the GMB.
Following a pay and grading review in 2021, Wiltshire proposed replacing the 20% uplift to their salary for working unsocial hours with a 20% supplement for each hour they worked.
£500 salary cut per month on cards, claims union
The council, which said current arrangements were “not financially sustainable”, has offered staff four years’ pay protection once the scheme is implemented, but GMB claimed that the practitioners would lose out on about £500 a month when this was removed.
The union has also accused the authority of threatening to dismiss staff and then re-employ them on the new terms – a charge Wiltshire denies.
“GMB has been warning the council for some time that this will destroy the service, by making it harder to attract and retain workers with the right levels of qualification and experience,” said the union’s branch secretary, Andy Newman.
“The council is threatening that ‘pay protection’ will not be given to staff unless they voluntarily agree to this contract change.
“GMB are clear that forcing members to waive away their pay is bullying and that is why our members are taking strike action.”
Current arrangements ‘not financially sustainable’ – council
In response, council chief executive Terence Herbert said: “It’s important to note there will be no immediate dismissal and offer of re-engagement (also called “fire and re-hire”) despite GMB repeatedly stating that this will be the approach.
“Our absolute preference remains to reach collective agreement [with the unions] but if this is not possible then we will seek to reach agreement with staff on an individual basis.
“For the sake of the wellbeing of our staff, and our need to ensure our policies are fit for purpose, we have also been clear that this matter cannot remain unresolved indefinitely. In this time of making best use of public money, the existing terms and conditions are not financially sustainable in their current form and therefore we’re looking to pay staff for the hours they work during unsocial hours, not a flat rate as it is now.
“For instance, staff are currently receiving a full 37 unsocial hours plussage even if they only work 3.7 unsocial hours.”
Herbert said the authority was confident that it would be able to make cover arrangements during the strikes that ensured “ongoing delivery of all critical elements” of the EDS and IFD.