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Unison deal would sacrifice College independence

BASW has warned that the College of Social Work could become dominated by trade union interests if it links up with Unison to offer joint membership to social workers.

Under a proposed deal presented by the trade union to a College Development Group meeting on 23 June and divulged to the media this week, social workers would pay a single fee to join Unison and the College of Social Work when it is launched in 2012.

But BASW chief executive Hilton Dawson says the Association has a number of “serious concerns” about the proposed arrangement. Drawing on a position document agreed by BASW’s UK Council on 7 July, Mr Dawson said the College must have its own membership database and membership fee collecting system to maintain its independence and business coherence, adding that all the trade unions with social workers as members must have equal access to working with the College.

“BASW is concerned that too close links with one trade union would limit the independence of the College, giving Unison or anyone else an influence which would detract from its own ability to be directly accountable to its members.

“Of course there will be many areas of common interest – but trade unions have a broader agenda than social work, and the College must be able to publicly represent social workers and social work even where this conflicts with the interests of any one union.”

He added that a move to offer a joint membership scheme would exclude a “significant proportion” of social workers, including those in independent practice and others who are not members of trade unions because they oppose strike action or believe that the distinct nature of social work is lost within general trade unions.

Leading social work academic Ray Jones said the proposal could undermine the college’s role in upholding professional standards. Mr Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University, said: “It is quite important that the college is seen to represent professional standards and not just social workers. There is a potential tension if it becomes too closely seen as protecting social workers.”

He added that while there were potential cost benefits for social workers in paying for a “joint ticket” they should not be forced to join Unison and should be able to opt out of the scheme if they only wanted to be a member of the college or another union.

The document agreed by BASW’s Council, BASW’s proposals for links between the College of Social Work and Trade Unions, includes possible alternative approaches to exploring a tie up with one trade union. One suggestion is that the College ’should first address the issue of whether the College of Social Work should become a trade union in its own right’.

BASW says: College of Social Work would sacrifice its independence if it joined up with Unison Significant numbers of social workers who are not eligible to join Unison, do not agree with the principles of trade unions or are members of specialist social work unions could lose out under the arrangement Social workers must be allowed the freedom to choose which union, if any, to join and the College of Social Work must be in a position to work with all trade unions

View BASW’s proposals for links between the College of Social Work and Trade Unions: