South Gloucestershire workers continue strike dispute

Social workers and occupational therapists are taking their fourth and fifth days of strike action this week

SWs and OTs working at South Gloucestershire council on the picket line outside their council building

Social workers and occupational therapists (OTs) working for South Gloucestershire council are to strike twice this week.

Staff will walk out for two days of action, today (Tuesday) and again on Thursday (1 June) after voting overwhelmingly for industrial action in a dispute over pay.

UNISON has been in dispute with the local authority since last summer. The new dates follow three days of strike action in April.

The dispute started after a decision by the council to award staff in children’s services an additional temporary £3,000 payment on top of their basic annual salary. This uplift was not offered to those doing the same job in adult services.

According to the union, a quarter of local authorities are now offering these “market forces” supplements as many are facing significant problems attracting and keeping staff. But UNISON says more staff should receive the supplement.

Dan Smart, branch secretary, UNISON South Gloucestershire said, “Social workers and OTs support people with some of the most challenging issues and situations in society, from domestic abuse to mental health issues.

“Of course, we support pay rises for all workers, but when my colleagues and I at South Gloucestershire council found out we were to be underpaid by £3000 per year in comparison to children’s social workers, we felt insulted and angry.

“Adult social workers have exactly the same qualifications as children’s and are facing very similar challenges in recruitment and retention.

“With the cost-of-living crisis, many are having to vote with their feet and go to where the pay is better. Some of our members have had to  take second jobs just to make ends meet for their families.

“This is the fourth day of strike action in the dispute, with another strike due on Thursday 1 June, which shows the strength of feeling of our members about this issue.

“We urge the council to come forward with an offer to enable us to progress. But in the meantime, we’ll be keeping up the pressure with a lobby of councillors on 12 June and beyond, to ensure our members are treated fairly.”

UNISON South West regional organiser, Jayne Jackson, added: “Strike action is always a last resort, but staff are determined to take a stand on this important issue.

“Negotiations to date have sadly not led to a resolution. But only through talking will this issue be settled. The council must double its efforts to end the strike by paying up and showing it values all its social work employees.”

UNISON head of local government, Mike Short, said: “Social work is an extremely demanding job and councils everywhere are finding it difficult to attract and hold on to staff.

“If this employer is to tackle staffing problems and maintain safe and effective services, councillors should be making these payments to all social workers. Otherwise, experienced employees will simply up sticks and leave for workplaces offering better rates of pay.”