By Isabel Ringrose
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2901

Barnet social workers restart their pay fight

Mental health social workers set for a further two weeks of strikes after beating the councils' attempt to break the strike with agency staff
Issue 2901
Striking social workers out in force on Monday (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Striking social workers out in force on Monday (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Mental health social workers employed by Barnet council in north London returned to picket lines on Monday this week.

The strikers were set to be out until Friday this week, as well as Monday to Friday of next week.

They returned having beaten the council’s use of agency workers to break the strike.

The local authority’s director of adult social care informed the Unison union branch that he had engaged the services of strike-breaking agency workers supplied by Flex 360.

Last year the high court ruled that legislation allowing employers to use agency workers to be unlawful.

Barnet Unison joint branch secretary John Burgess said, “In 28 years of being a Barnet Unison rep I have never before this experienced the amount of anti-union rhetoric coming from senior management.

“My message to the council is stop the bullying and come back with an offer which our members would be prepared to accept.”

After pressure from the strikers and their supporters, Barnet council announced days just before the strike was set to restart that it would no longer be using Flex 360.

The workers have already struck for 27 days since the end of September as they fight for a recruitment and retention payment to reduce staff turnover and patient waiting lists.

Social workers who work with children get up to 25 percent extra pay.

Meanwhile Barnet council has offered just 2.6 percent extra to social workers within the mental health social care service.

After a call for a picket on its first day, Unison and TUC union federation representatives were joined by MPs and trades council members.

Lewisham Unison in south London brought £1,000 collected for the strike fund to the pickets.

 Back the action

  • Strike 1: 15-26 April
  • Strike 2: 13 May to 1 June
  • Strike 3: 17 June to 12 July
  • Messages of support to [email protected]
  • Visit picket lines between 8-10am at 2 Bristol Avenue, Colindale, London NW9 4EW

Drive home the campaign success over healthcare assistants’ grading

The Question of pay dominated the Unison union health conference last week.

But proposals from its leadership failed to set out a strategy to win a better deal than last year.

Delegates unanimously passed a motion saying that the union should prepare to leave the government’s Pay Review Body (PRB).

It recommends pay offers for most NHS workers, including for hundreds of thousands of workers on the Agenda for Change contract.

The PRB has made derisory annual pay offers while sticking ruthlessly to the government’s “pay envelope”. And no wonder—it is led by bosses from big firms.

The conference was unified in its opposition to the government’s ongoing consultation on a separate pay scale for nurses.

Delegates rightly saw this as an attempt at divide and rule.

The highlight of the conference was the discussion of the battle to upgrade Health Care Assistants HCSs), and other similar roles.

Here the union could point to some significant victories.

Care Since 2022 some 35,000 HCA have been moved from band 2 to band 3 after proving that they do clinical work in addition to personal care.

An HCA from Luton told the conference that after the union there submitted a grievance to trust bosses, a meeting was held with its chief executive.

“I think they had expected about 30 of us to turn up, we had this little room, but there were actually 650 of us,” she said.

When management still refused to budge, Unison organised two days of strikes before bosses caved in.

Another HCA, from Bedford, said she now wanted to see the campaign picked up in other areas.

More than 1,000 HCAs at seven sites in Teesside are already heeding that call.

They walked out on strike over the issue for three days last week and are planning further action.

This is the union’s second set of strikes action, following a 24-hour walkout last month.

This week HCAs at three hospitals in Leicester walked out on Monday of this week and are set to strike again on Thursday 25 April and Wednesday 1 May.

Send school workers back strikes over conditions

NEU union members at two special schools in Redbridge, east London, have voted for strikes against inadequate and unsafe provision for their Send (special educational needs and disabled) students.

Some 173 NEU members at Hatton primary and Little Heath secondary have secured 98 percent Yes votes for strikes on a 75 percent turnout.

This comes after years of seeing rising student numbers crammed into increasingly inadequate space.

In a sign of how resistance builds unions, over 70 members have joined the NEU since January as anger has built over what they regard as inadequate plans to address this.

Staff feel that the conditions are becoming increasingly poor and that the stresses this places on them, the children and their families are becoming intolerable.

Redbridge council agreed to talks this week to look at improvements to the plans.

This may resolve some of the issues. But in the wider picture strikes are clearly needed over the lack of funding from central government.

Following these talks members will decide whether to notify for strikes.

by Ben Morris

Headache for Mindspace

Cleaners who work for Mindspace, a co-working space provider, are planning to strike over the bosses’ plan to cut their hours and after the sacking of a worker.

Management suddenly told workers, who are outsourced to Key Enviro Solutions, that their hours would be drastically cut.

One worker, Delfina, stood up to the bosses and said she wouldn’t have her hours cut from four hours a day to two.

She was sacked by management for taking a stand.

Bosses also sent an email to the Caiwu cleaners’ union saying that asking members to strike could be a “breach of their contractual terms and conditions”.

But workers won’t back down. They said that unless Key Enviro Solutions meets their demand, they will strike on 1 May.

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