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SWU Blog: It is vital that unions work together

SWU Executive update on attempts for joint statement

Once more SWU has attempted to work with UNISON, this time on a joint statement about the importance of sufficient social work funding post Covid-19.

This would have been powerful and building on comments made by Roger McKenzie (UNISON Assistant General Secretary),  who spoke quite passionately recently  about the importance of UNISON working with other unions and moving away from seeing other unions as competition or threat and focussing on the positives of joint working. 

This attempt at collaboration from SWU followed on from a UNISON official’s previous comment when we asked about campaigning about ‘Working Conditions’ that ‘they would never work with SWU’.  In addition, it was also stated that ‘they would be developing their own campaign ‘This remains a real regret as the profession would be stronger together and would allow us an opportunity to really support UNISON with any future proposals for strike action.

It is difficult to support future strike action instigated by UNISON if they do not engage with the largest social work union in the UK.

UNISON's recent reply to SWU on joint campaigning was brief and the following: ‘I circulated the draft statement to my lay Committee and they thought rather than a joint statement it would be more effective for UNISON to mirror the concerns through the recognised National Joint Council (NJC) machinery’.

The Social Workers Union feels that it is important to share our frustrations regarding UNISON not engaging as we often get asked why we are not working with UNISON on social work matters particularly as ‘working together’ we would all be stronger. 

The NJC is the mechanism for pay discussion with Local Authorities and covered by the traditional unions of UNISON, GMB and UNITE and not social work specific.

Frequently we are also asked about Trade Union Council Membership and Collective Bargaining.

SWU can apply and consider TUC membership but the SWU  Executive has previously voted not to; partly this is due to the cost as there is a fee for each member but principally because we feel that our needs are well met through membership of the General Federation of Trade Union (GFTU) which is also costly but provides bespoke services and campaigning opportunities for specialist trade unions. 

SWU is an active member of the GFTU and we sit on their National Executive with 31 other specialist unions covered as part of the federation.  GFTU is also a member of TUC.

Some UNISON activists often criticise SWU for not offering collective bargaining. The issue for SWU as a small (albeit 13,200 social work members) but growing union is that we have not asked to be recognised by most local authorities for individual collective bargaining.  

Collective bargaining is the official process by which trade unions negotiate with individual employers, on behalf of their members and mostly linked to pay and conditions. The majority of collective bargaining arrangements in the UK are voluntary and moving forward we can apply to be recognised but this process involves complex legal statistical provision. 

It also involves having extra staff and union volunteers (please consider applying to be a Union Contact) to fulfil the duties of this.  

As a developing union we are building on our membership and will hopefully be able to apply for collective bargaining in the future but being in a union is much more than collective bargaining as you will know if you have ever been in touch for specialist social work advice and representation or followed some of our recent campaigns and union activity.  

SWU can implement national strike action on general issues similar to any other union.

Although traditionally larger unions have done well to focus on pay and conditions, moving forward, what also appears to be important for social workers is employment wellbeing and job satisfaction. Interestingly, this is reflected further through recent Bath Spa University research and follow up meetings indicating that addressing those factors keep social workers in their posts and not only higher pay levels or more annual leave.

This fits with findings from a recent GFTU conference. SWU is in a unique position as social workers to understand those issues as opposed to solely issues around pay.

Fortunately, the appetite for joining a union has never been stronger and this is reflected in SWU’s rising membership and recruitment of over 100 Union Contacts in the workplace.  Unions have a representative role in the workplace, and we have the experience of specialist advice and union representation if needed and we cannot be refused by an employer.

In addition, a more collaborative approach with British Association of Social Workers - our professional association - works best for social workers in the long term. Certainly, conglomerate large unions who represent social workers traditionally only have extremely low percentage members who are actual social workers; so how can they truly represent the profession on their own? 

Larger unions provide representation from shop stewards and reps who often have no knowledge or understanding of the complexities of social work. 

SWU staff, Executive Committee, workplace Union Contacts and full time Advice & Representation officers are all social workers with extensive and in-depth knowledge and experience of the profession.

Our door is always open to working and collaboration with any trade union as a priority.



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