Social workers to take three months of strike action in pay dispute

Out-of-hours practitioners at authority will strike every weekend from mid-February to mid-May over reduction in payments for working unsocial hours

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

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 planned 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.

7 Responses to Social workers to take three months of strike action in pay dispute

  1. Anonymous February 1, 2024 at 6:39 pm #

    And Terence Herbert is an ex Social Worker 🙁

  2. Anonymous February 2, 2024 at 9:11 am #

    Similarly to the Letby case. Registered professionals reach a level where they no longer register but make very important decisions with no or limited accountability. It’s wrong

  3. Rosie Jones February 2, 2024 at 11:00 am #

    How do we expect people to do one of the most difficult and thankless job if we treat them like this
    Double pay
    Half caseload
    That’s more like it

    I retired 11 years yesterday from 40 years as a social worker

    My works pension is very modest
    Changes to contracts can have a long term effect

    I support your dispute but I am not convinced that strikes affect management but I know that they hurt service users who otherwise have no voice nor power

    • S D February 3, 2024 at 12:49 pm #

      That is the local authority’s issue to deal with, not the individual social worker. As it is, service users are getting hurt daily by the atrocious working conditions. That is the whole point of the strikes. Social workers know their service users are not getting a proper service and have been saying this for years with no change. Action is required now.

  4. Anonymous February 2, 2024 at 6:48 pm #

    Not sure if the previous commentators read the article but I cannot see that the council make an unreasonable suggestion. They want to pay a 20% surplus for every hour worked outside normal working hours (or unsocial hours as it is called) instead of paying someone 20% more overall because the person works some hours outside of normal working hours. How can that be wrong please? If a person works all their contractual hours outside of normal working hours then they receive the same as now.
    The one issue could be the definition of ‘unsocial hours’, when do they start and when they finish.
    The council offered 4 years (!!!) of pay protection to ease the perceived loss in income.
    As a fellow social worker but also as a (council) tax payer I would describe the latter offer as ‘crazy’ or ‘so good, it shouldn’t be true ‘. Surely if one of the current emergency duty workers finds that in 4 years times this would not be sustainable then they can make arrangements to leave for a different job.
    The recruitment and retention will likely be more difficult as new staff will not get the same conditions anymore and this will create, at least for 4 years, a problem.
    Given that we are heading into the direction of a 7 day service with some councils now making contracts for 5 out of 7 days instead of Mo-Fr there might not be many unsocial hours left in the future.
    On a general note I sometimes question what solutions the previous commentators would have in a situation when one contract party is unhappy with the contract and wants changes.
    A negotiation has obviously been attempted but once this fails, as in any legal contract, any side can decide or has the right to pull out. If all the legal obligations are adhered to it is a normal process.
    Councils, as employers, get a lot of things wrong and there’s plenty to criticise but this one .. please, not this part.

  5. Person who understands EDT work February 2, 2024 at 9:41 pm #

    As usual, people who know little or nothing about out of hours social work making decisions that disadvantage EDT workers.
    I stand in solidarity with my former Wilts EDS colleagues (and our highly skilled and knowledgeable EDT colleagues up and down the country). Unsociable hours is exactly that and plays havoc with your personal life and circadian rhythm.

  6. An AMHP February 6, 2024 at 12:46 pm #

    There are known physical health consequences to repeated out of hours working. There are studies about the consequences of being an unsocial hours worker in the health and social care professions. It’s time LAs and other employers factored in the health risks to the pay of those working out of hours. What Wiltshire and other LAs are doing with this shows how little they consider their employees physical wellbeing.