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SWU: Need to ‘protect the protectors’ greater than ever

The rapid growth of the UK’s only dedicated union for social workers shows the increasing need for protection in the workplace, says John McGowan, General Secretary of the Social Workers Union (SWU). Speaking ahead of a sell-out inaugural dedicated AGM, Mr McGowan said almost 20% of all requests from social workers for support from the union were related to service conditions and demands.

At this time of massive change in the role of local government across the UK, alongside the increasingly stringent demands of the contract requirements for all employers, individual workers can increasingly find themselves at odds with their employer. SWU offers support to help individuals and groups of workers to try to get the systems and resources to deliver the best possible services to the people who use them. Another large part of the work of SWU is the representation of members when facing challenges with their employer. As the numbers of referrals rise, so also has the complexity of the individual situations. This impacts on the mental health of the social workers, and adds to the demands made on the trade union officials as they provide representation for people. As SWU General Secretary, Mr McGowan is keen to build a network of local workplace volunteers to boost recruitment to the union and encourage members to work more effectively together to improve working conditions.

A social worker for 18 years and a lecturer with the Open University, Mr McGowan was active in the establishment of SWU. He served on the first SWU Executive and has remained there for the last five years, more recently in the elected honorary position of Vice-President of SWU. Commenting on his appointment as SWU General Secretary, John McGowan said: “Social work is a tough job and often involves working within organisational systems that seem to undermine the work with service users, rather than enhance it. Social workers as individuals cannot change our employment situation on our own. We need to work together for change and take more control of our own profession.

"SWU is unique as it is fully staffed on the front line by union officials and on its executive body by qualified social workers. Who understands the pressures of the job better than fellow social workers? SWU staff are able to use their social work skills and knowledge to look at a case and truly see the worker’s perspective. The AGM officially marks the start of my term of office as General Secretary and will reinforce that SWU and BASW are separate organisations which maintain and promote their distinct identities, qualities and strengths. The event is already fully booked with a waiting list for entrance, which is great position to be in for my first day in new job. Membership is growing very quickly and I have been lucky enough to have been on the first Executive and been part of the growth.”

Professor Ray Jones will be leading member discussions and questions at the AGM. Topics include the future of local government services, registration and regulation of social workers and social work and the media. Doug Nichol, Head of the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) will also be providing input during the day with further contribution from Dr Neil Thomson, a highly respected figure in social work. 

For more information on the SWU AGM, click HERE