Social workers to strike over caseloads, IT systems and pay

16 Jan 2017

Unison members at an 'inadequate' council are set for a one-day walk out on 27 January

Children’s social workers in Kirklees have voted to go on strike after a dispute with the council over working conditions.

The local Unison branch said its social worker members will strike on January 27 after the walk out was backed by 79% of 75 members who voted on a ballot.

Social workers want action on a “long-running” dispute over pay, unmanageable caseloads, the council’s IT system, bullying, working environments and high dependency on agency staff, the union said.

Councillors in Kirklees accused the union of playing politics with a vital service and claimed the 75 members who voted in the ballot represented a small proportion of union members and social work staff.

In a separate development, the council’s director of children’s services, Sarah Callaghan, has left after less than nine months in post.

‘Not fit for purpose’

The news brings further turmoil to Kirklees children’s services, which has been under government intervention since being given an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating in November last year. Inspectors referred 100 cases back to the authority for urgent review during the inspection and found social care IT systems were “not fit for purpose”.

Paul Holmes, the local Unison branch secretary, said Ofsted’s judgment had reinforced problems members had been raising since 2011, but talks with the council to resolve them had “gone nowhere”.

He said social workers were “at the end of their tether”, adding: “Members are saying the caseloads are too big, the other issue is…people have a wide caseload ranging from easy to middle to hard cases. People accept that, [however] when you get increasing numbers of agency social workers…you get a bigger proportion of the harder stuff.

“I don’t want to achieve a strike, I want to achieve a resolution to the six problems.”

Mandate

Erin Hill, lead Kirklees councillor for family support and child protection, said documents provided by Unison showed no issues were officially raised between 2014 and 2016, by which point the council “were aware of the scale of the problem and putting plans in place to resolve it.”

“While I recognise we still have a way to go, my view is that we are dealing with the issues he raised as well and as quickly as we can, with support from the DfE [Department for Education],” she said.

Hill questioned Unison’s mandate for the strike, claiming 75 members voted but “around 300” people were balloted.

“When you consider there are almost 400 of our workers with social worker qualifications, and 1300 staff in children’s services – this is a lot of disruption on a small number of votes in favour, “ she said. “I repeat my initial offer to all staff, regardless of union affiliation – my door is always open for you to talk about any concerns you might have.”

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