A special solution to group disputes

A Social Work Union Guide

In May 2011, members of BASW voted in favour of developing a trade union arm, a move set to strengthen the existing Advice & Representation (A&R) Service further and allow staff to better represent members across the UK. Given this move and as more and more local authority social workers are finding themselves in exceptional circumstances and facing restructuring and redundancies due to ongoing cuts, this month’s The Surgery steps away from its usual format to bring you an update on efforts to encourage people to come together and take action, setting out details of an offer to make their services available to many more members.

The impact of the government spending cuts has been felt in all areas of social care. As social workers we take our responsibility and accountability for providing a cost-effective service seriously. The average social work salary is far below that of other similar professions. As most social workers will concur we did not choose to go into social work for it kudos or financial gain.

The social work profession has been underfunded for years and social workers have juggled budgets, large caseloads and service cuts long before the implementation of the recent cuts to budgets. Most of us have also gone through at least one restructuring or service redesign within our career and have adapted and accepted change as inevitable.

Recently, however, the way many authorities are dealing with change is more covert. BASW’s Advice and Representation (A&R) Service has received many calls from members where it is clear that due process has not been followed. More and more it would seem there is a lack of consistency in the consultation, implementation and equality of these cuts.

We have been informed of incidents where there has been little or no consultation and where posts have been advertised externally before existing internal staff have secured new roles. Contracts of employment have been changed indiscriminately, resulting in employees being forced to take pay cuts, move disciplines and even location. This is not an exhaustive list of the issues raised with us.

Members have informed us that that they feel isolated and unable to challenge such issues individually as they fear repercussions and that they may well be “picked off”. We are all aware of the power of group action; it was a group of social workers who felt they needed to raise awareness of the issues pertinent to the social work profession some 41 years ago that was the foundation stone of BASW and we all know about the great things that group achieved and continues to achieve today. It is much harder to disempower a group than an individual.

The A&R service is increasingly aware of this and in response to the concerns we have been hearing we are, for a limited time, introducing a scheme to support group grievances. Currently, a BASW member may wish to proceed to a group grievance/activity but finds that similarly affected colleagues are not BASW members, so making this process tricky. However, if that individual member can recruit ten or more people who are affected by their employer’s plans to join BASW as a group, we will give those new members full access to all the benefits of the A&R Service immediately. The key advantage of this scheme is that we will waive the three month period where previously new members were not entitled to receive representation.

We are currently dealing with two local authorities where this offer was trialled and it has enabled us to challenge the situations that have disadvantaged our members and where the correct procedure for change was not followed. Since we anticipate gaining trade union certification within the next month or so, the level of service we offer should only be strengthened. So why not encourage colleagues to read our new trade union rules, which are available on the BASW website and highlight our group offer. This is all about ‘strength in numbers’ and social workers having a single voice; allowing us to speak out independently without fear of repercussions.

Please encourage colleagues to join BASW, as individuals or as a group, and receive the benefits of standard membership now, as well as, very soon, being able to opt-in to join The Social Workers Union, our emerging trade union arm. Let’s use this chance to empower each other for positive change in all aspects of social work.

Special offer for groups:

If an individual member facing an employment problem, such as restructuring, can recruit ten or more people who are affected by their employer’s plans to join BASW as a group, BASW is offering those new members full access to all the benefits of the A&R Service immediately. As such, BASW is waiving the three month period where previously new members were not entitled to receive representation.

Published : 2nd January 2012*

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* Although BASW has prepared the information contained within Social Work Knowledge with all due care and updates the information regularly, BASW does not warrant or represent that the information is free from errors or omission. Whilst the information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of the information. The information may change without notice and BASW is not in any way liable for the accuracy of any information printed and stored or in any way interpreted and used by a user.