Social workers reject council offer to settle dispute after more than 40 days of strike action

Offer of 5% recruitment and retention payment for all adult social care practitioners rejected by mental health social workers with union saying they will not settle for less than 10%

Barnet social workers represented by UNISON on the picket line
Barnet Social workers represented by UNISON on the picket line (credit: Barnet UNISON)

Mental health social workers have rejected a new council offer to settle a dispute that has seen them take more than 40 days of strike action.

Their employer, Barnet Council, has offered adult social care practitioners in the borough, including the mental health staff, a recruitment and retention payment worth 5% of salary.

However, their union, UNISON, has said they will not settle for less than 10% to resolve a dispute about staffing levels in the authority’s north and south mental health teams and its approved mental health professional (AMHP) service

The practitioners, who work in these three teams, are currently in the first week of a three-week walkout, which is set to be followed by a four-week strike next month, in protest against staffing levels.

Exodus of stafff 

According to Barnet UNISON, 21 social workers have left the north and south teams in the past 20 months, while half of AMHPs will have left the service by the end of this month.

Though new staff have been hired, the union claimed that the overall level of mental health experience in the north and south teams has reduced and said some social work roles have been replaced by non-professionally qualified positions.

UNISON said a recruitment and retention payment for mental health practitioners in the borough was needed to stem the tide of staff leaving the service.

Its 10% demand is a reduction from its original claim for a 20% payment, which is a similar level to that received by the council’s child and family social workers.

The council’s 5% offer for social workers, senior practitioners and occupational therapists in adults’ services is an improvement on its original gambit of providing this group this group with annual payments of £1,000 over two years, worth an estimated 2.5% of salary on average.

The union’s view is that there is no evidence of recruitment and retention issues among adult social care more generally, however, the council said the issue was a national problem, not confined to its mental health teams.

Increased offer from council is ‘fair’

“The three striking teams have higher levels of permanent staffing than other social work teams,” said a council spokesperson. “We have made an increased financial offer to UNISON of a 5% recruitment & retention payment to all social workers, occupational therapists and senior practitioners.

“This would apply to nearly 200 staff, as opposed to only the 26 social workers in the three striking teams.

“In addition, our benchmarking continues to show that we pay well compared to other outer London boroughs. We have also reviewed other London boroughs’ recruitment and retention payments to adult social workers, which identified that R&R payments were being made to all adult social workers, not specific teams only.

“We believe this is a fair offer. We also remain open to discussing other support, such as additional social work posts. We are more than willing to continue to sit at the negotiating table.”

10% payment is a ‘red line’ – union

However, in response, Barnet UNISON branch secretary John Burgess said: “We have consulted our members on 5% which is a drop of 15% from our original claim. Every one of our members is clear 5% will not stop staff leaving the mental health teams.

“The council have not provided any evidence of a wider recruitment and retention issue across the service. They have admitted that the criteria for making recruitment and retention payment to a wider group of staff is connected to being fair and working hard. Neither of these criteria are contained within the recruitment and retention policy.”

“The strength of feeling is very strong,” Burgess added, in relation to the strike. “UNISON’s red line is 10%.”

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4 Responses to Social workers reject council offer to settle dispute after more than 40 days of strike action

  1. Diane_W May 18, 2024 at 9:17 am #

    Without social workers, we can’t have social care. Not sure what the future is going to actually look like, for social care, in the next few years, but the way things are already going, it doesn’t look good.

  2. Andrea May 18, 2024 at 4:55 pm #

    Social workers all over the country are massively overworked and underpaid. Child protection as massive unreal expectations in respect of workload and job difficulty which is why there is a national shortage of social workers.

  3. Shermilla May 19, 2024 at 10:40 am #

    The social Work profession is far more demanding than teachers and yet they are less recognised.
    They work out in the community, with challenging families and individuals. They have more intense OFSTED scrutiny than schools and yet schools play the roles of victims.
    Social Workers are far too busy to be calling for strikes, they are more dedicated profession unlike, teachers.

  4. Calum May 19, 2024 at 4:59 pm #

    Hang in there you will get it. EIS got teachers 14.6%! Absolutely social workers deserve parity of pay with other public sector workers. If teachers and jnr Dr’s can secure more than 14% why not social workers too?! Most social workers are doing the work of 3 people, authorities should be grateful we don’t want 3 salaries, 10% is not a lot to pay to keep experienced skilled staff. Be interesting to weigh up how much it’s cost in recruitment for the exodus of staff – would it have offset a reasonable pay award.

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