Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/468/1942
Victory for Surrey social workers
SOCIAL WORKERS in Surrey have won an important victory after organising solid strike action.
Paul Couchman, Adults Convenor, Surrey UNISON, personal capacity
I had only been Adults Convenor for a matter of weeks when I got a call from one of our Approved Social Workers (ASWs): "We need UNISON".
I found our members had been forced into working ridiculously long hours by the County Council (SCC). This had been going on for over a year despite staff making numerous attempts to resolve the issues.
They decided that enough was enough and we put together the following demands:
£3,000 one-off, goodwill payment to all ASWs for the stress, heavy workloads and unpaid overtime of the last 18 months.
Overtime to be paid to any ASW who works after 5pm, unless they choose to take time off in lieu.
Management to meet with UNISON regularly to discuss issues such as recruitment and retention, career progression etc.
UNISON balloted the ASWs and 100% voted for an indefinite overtime ban, with 85% voting for strike action if necessary.
We informed SCC of the overtime ban and that the ASWs would be striking alongside other Surrey workers when they were on strike over pay on 30 November. But SCC did not appear to be taking the issue seriously.
At a mass meeting of ASWs, we agreed (almost unanimously) that we would call a three-day strike on the 27, 28 and 29 December. This was a huge step for members to agree to take.
Then, the Head of Adult Services called us to a meeting. After two hours we had an historic deal in our hands, which we took to the ASWs who voted to accept:
- £1,000 goodwill payment.
- Overtime payments backdated to 1 January 2006 - where this hasn't been taken back as time off.
- Overtime payments to be available for ASW duties running past 5pm - from 1 January 2007.
The first meeting of a joint working party to discuss the ASW service will be held in January.
This dispute has really brought home to me the importance of union membership, solidarity and leadership - all qualities that shone from our members in this service throughout the dispute.
We now have 100% UNISON membership, seven local stewards and a new post of ASW Convenor, currently filled by Andy Pattinson, who spoke to the socialist about the dispute (see box).
Q After the second day of Surrey-wide UNISON strike action over pay on 21 December, there is still no revised offer from the council - they are sticking to their 2% two-year imposed deal. We will be discussing stepping up the action at our AGM in January.
Messages of support and donations should be sent to: Surrey County UNISON, County Hall, Penrhyn Road, Kingston, KT1 2DN, or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
MY JOB as an Approved Social Worker (ASW) is both demanding and interesting. I am responsible for decisions under the Mental Health Act 1983 .
To detain somebody or to seek alternatives to admission to hospital is a very serious decision to make over somebody's life.
You only have to read in the papers about 'failure of care in the community' when somebody commits suicide or murders a member of the public.
Staff shortages were leading Surrey County Council's (SCC) services into a crisis. No dedicated service and a lack of funding meant some boroughs had no ASWs at all.
And ASWs were working beyond their contractual arrangements (after 5pm) out of 'good will'.
But the sucker punch was if an ASW assessment came in before 5pm, I would be expected to work on it until completion. I could not hand over to an out-of-hours team.
This meant that twice a week I could be out doing assessments between 9am and midnight.
I rapidly ran out of 'good will', so I wanted money instead of time off if I had to work beyond my contractual agreement. But we were told there was no money.
So we were forced into an uncompromising position of an indefinite overtime ban and going on strike. We then had to threaten all-out strike over Christmas before the council backed down.
I would say to any workers: "Get organised!" We did and we won!
Andy Pattinson, ASW Convenor, Surrey UNISON (in a personal capacity)
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