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New ways of working – an update from BASW UK & SWU

A message from Gerry Nosowska (BASW chair), Ruth Allen (BASW CEO), and John McGowan (SWU General Secretary)

As we approach winter, it is timely to update members on how we are currently responding to the pressures and constraints of the pandemic.

We are conscious of the ongoing impact of Covid-19 on members, personally and professionally, and are determined to keep adapting to support you better.

A central priority for us remains direct support through the Professional Support Servicepeer support in groups and branches, opportunities to learn and reflect, guidance and of course Advice and Representation when you need it.

At a time of extensive policy and legal reform proposals across all UK governments, we continue to lobby for recognition and support for social work and challenge regressive proposals where necessary. We strive to amplify your concerns and expectations in our lobbying and influencing and know that hearing the voice of the profession in these debates is part of the important support we provide.

Ways of working

BASW worked entirely online from March 2020 to June 2021. We have had consistent positive feedback from members and others on the accessibility and inclusion of our activities and resources online. We have reached many more members and removed many barriers to engagement through online activities.

We believe the ongoing risks of the pandemic require a continuation of predominantly online working and Covid-safe best practices in all we do.

We also value the progress we have made in environmental sustainability and supporting the wellbeing of members and staff through greatly reducing travel and other energy-hungry activities. We want to maintain this shift.

Of course, members, staff and all of us miss the relational, professional and social boost that comes from meeting in person - and there are types of important activities that cannot be done online. For these reasons, since July we have provided some Covid-safe face to face meeting opportunities for members and staff.  Our offices in Birmingham can be open two days a week and accessible by prior arrangement with a relevant staff member. We will have similar arrangements soon in Belfast and Edinburgh.

We expect a pattern of ‘online’ first with occasional, risk-assessed face to face opportunities to continue until March 2022. We will not be organising any large face to face events during that time.

BASW / SWU Advice and representation (A&R) service

We have recently consulted members on future ways of working for the BASW Advice and Representation service and SWU trade union officers.

Member feedback on the service overall supports the continuance of the online advice and representation approach. 

We also heard that assurance is needed about the quality and outcomes achievable through this approach - and uncertainty about whether employers will want to return to face to face hearings over time.

We can assure members that we have continued to achieve the same excellent results for members throughout the pandemic. We have also learnt a huge amount about the factors that can achieve success. Officers can explain these to members, and we will provide more fact sheets on our website.

We will keep the employers’ perspectives and requirements under review and talk with employers and their representative organisations to promote the value for all of continuing with online meetings.

We do know that regulators across the UK plan to continue using remote meetings for many/most of their hearings.

We have built in some important additional assurances to our service whilst working remotely:

  • We aim for all parties being online (not some in a room together) as this improves fairness and achieves a more level playing field
  • We work with and influence employers to ensure they are aware of the value of online formats and how these can reduce unfairness or discrimination in processes.
  • We ensure reasonable adjustments are made for individuals with specific needs and for protected characteristics.

Exceptions

We have agreed exceptions to online representation. Face to face representation may be offered, subject to a Covid safety assessment, if the employer or regulator insists on this in the following circumstances:

  • Where reasonable adjustments related to a protected characteristic cannot be accommodated through an online meeting and/or where online technology cannot be made accessible to the member.
  • Where there is an imminent and strong risk of dismissal from employment.
  • Where a regulator insists on a face-to-face fitness to practice hearing.

All decisions to have face-to-face meetings will be made on an individual basis with the agreement of all parties. The relevant A&R manager will make the final decision on whether a face-to-face meeting will go ahead.

John McGowan, Social Workers Union General Secretary, said: “SWU is an active member of the General Federation of Trade Unions which is a federation made up of 30 specialist trade unions.

“After consultations with some GFTU affiliates it is clear that there are a number of advantages to some online meetings. 

“In general, there appeared to be better time management with individual member contact and some meetings easier to manage and diary in. 

“Other positives of online meetings included a reduction regarding the environmental impact of travel and overnight stays.

“Some GFTU affiliates also felt that the online model appeared to be effective for managing some meetings; particularly as all papers could be accessed via the screen (or two screens) and saved documents rather than searching for relevant papers whilst in meetings. 

“It is clear that if a significant number of online meetings are to be considered then consideration needs to be given to the ACAS guidelines.  

“Overall, the current mixed economy when applied to remote working and applied in a common sense fashion can be an effective model of working.”