Support for Strike

The Social Workers Union (SWU) offers our wholehearted support to colleagues in public sector trade unions who took industrial action in Northern Ireland in relation to pay and staffing issues in December 2019 and who are planning to take further action in 2020.

We fully support the strike but are unable legally to ask our members to strike. We do ask our members to take the following action:

  • Not working overtime on days of industrial action

  • Not working unpaid hours

Legal Situation for SWU

This was a strike organised by other unions and SWU were not asked to be involved in the action nor to date have we been part of the negotiations on the main issues. We would however clearly welcome a more co-ordinated approach with other unions and efforts to build relationships in this regard will be a matter of priority in 2020. Meantime, more significantly, the system for balloting members is legally complex and SWU currently do not have the legal consultative ballot mandate for strike action (see below).

In the event of any strike action our legal advice to SWU members is as follows: 

  • Work normally: SWU members are strongly advised to carry out their normal duties and we would urge them not to volunteer to work extended hours arising directly out of or in consequence of the dispute. Members should not at any time act in breach of their contracts of employment
  • Respect for picket lines: SWU may not lawfully encourage members to take part in secondary industrial action. Members may, however, choose as a matter of individual conscience, not to cross a picket line

Members who so choose not to cross a picket line should be aware that such action is likely to put them in breach of employment contract and may result in their employer taking disciplinary action against them. It may well be that individual members take the decision not to do any additional contracted hours to compensate and such a decision would be acceptable if contracted hours were covered in work.

Any further strike action could mean that SWU members may unfortunately again find themselves in a very difficult and pressured situation, particularly concerning picket lines but legally the advice is to attend work as we do not have the legal right to instruct SWU members not to attend work.

SWU endeavours to provide advice, support and representation to any member facing disciplinary action in such circumstances.  If SWU members have any queries about such potential action there is an option to discuss further with the Advice and Representation team.

Consultative Ballot

SWU is often asked about our view on industrial action. Needless to say, there is a range of opinion among members on the subject. SWU will be consulting with members Feb 2020 on this ballot and this will determine future action if deemed legally appropriate and necessary. 

We differ from “conventional” trade unions

Yes, we differ from “conventional” trade unions in that rather than being workplace shop stewards, our Advice & Representation Team are full-time professional officers, qualified and experienced in social work and with a breadth of knowledge about the issues that affect social workers daily.  Whilst traditionally larger unions have done well to focus on terms and conditions, moving forward, what appears to be of equal importance 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 alongside higher pay levels or more annual leave. This fits with findings from a recent General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) Union conference.

Already we have invested heavily in campaigning, additional staff and ongoing resources but with an annual fee of £25 (£10 for students) there are obvious financial  limitations to our budget.

The fixed funding from SWU for the Austerity Action Group (Boot out Austerity) strengthens our commitment to ongoing campaigning and being active. The success of the union lies in the motivation and involvement of our members. In our union we really promote the continued involvement of our members to shape the organisation. Nonetheless, the hard work remains with the A&R Team who are the Unique Selling Point of this union; without them we would not be who we are due to the skilled work that they do, and their commitment.

The General Federation of Trade Unions training options available to members are worthy of a look as are the legal and financial discounts and training provided from Dr Neil Thompson. SWU membership is much more than just paying your fee as a safety net in case you need representation; as we have lots more going on, and opportunities to be active.

Our General Secretary was again elected onto the GFTU National Executive for another two-year period, reinforcing our position amongst the influential specialist unions and the growth of the GFTU as a pioneering and imaginative organisation with a growing membership now approaching 280,000 members.

Our unique selling point remains with the following: SWU is the only UK trade union for, and run by, qualified and registered social workers. Therefore, SWU is the only trade union to  GUARANTEE representation by a qualified social worker who understands the complexities of the profession. With officers working across the UK, we provide representation at internal hearings for disciplinary and grievance procedures, and employer investigations into practice and misconduct allegations.

Going forward

SWU is often asked about our view on industrial action and we fully recognise that there is a range of opinions amongst members on the subject. However SWU also recognizes that the time is right ,as a fully functioning and independent trades union, to provide clarity on our position in relation to this issue and within the legal constraints available to us and we will keep members fully informed of this process. Therefore February 2020 will see a consultative ballet going out to all our UK members to help determine the legal basis for any participation by SWU in any future industrial action scenarios.  This is only the start of the process as local action requires clear legal scrutiny to enable us to maintain a localised but legal ballot.

‘THANK YOU‘ SWU Members

SWU would like to express its thanks to all our members for their patience and understanding on this complex matter; your continuing membership is vital to our strength as a union as we continue in our aim of improving the working conditions of Social Workers and fight for better resources for the people who use these services.

As part of the General Federation of Trade Unions Executive, we hear regular stories about the successes of smaller unions; making themselves very relevant and organised. A common theme is how much the smaller unions are effective due to their specialism and ability to connect with members.  Equally, smaller unions in the GFTU have similar difficulties to SWU when strike action is called.

Despite the growing demand for smaller unions, overall trade union membership in the UK fell from an historic high point of 13.5 million members in 1979 to 6.2 million members in 2018. The level of overall union members decreased by 275,000 over one year from 2015 (a 4.2 per cent decrease), the largest annual fall recorded since the Trade Union Membership 2016: Statistical Bulletin series began in 1995.

A number of large individual unions have continued to lose membership over the past decade. I am therefore particularly pleased to say that membership of the Social Workers Union has expanded, and we are getting close to 13,000 members. As we know, a real strength is that union members want to be active through our Union Contact scheme and further opportunities to engage with activism.

Why SWU membership is important

  • Social Workers Union is the only UK trade union for, and run by, qualified and registered social workers.
  • Only a trade union can guarantee representation in hearings before an employer. We’re one of the fastest growing trade union in the UK with 12,800 members and growing month by month.
  • Opting in to SWU means you’ll receive guaranteed protection at employer hearings and representation from SWU Trade Union officials. We work alongside BASW, which offers advice and representation at regulatory body hearings.
  • SWU is the only trade union to guarantee representation by a qualified social worker who understands the complexities of the profession. With officers working across the UK, we provide representation at internal hearings for disciplinary and grievance procedures, and employer investigations into practice and misconduct allegations.
  • The General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) training options available to members are worthy of a look (and can provide important evidence in the context of continuous professional development!) as are the legal and financial discounts and training provided from Dr Neil Thompson. It is much more than just paying your fee as a safety net in case you need representation; as we have lots more going on, and opportunities to be active.

John McGowan

General Secretary

Social Workers Union

 

2  January 2020