Social work pay dispute The action continues

By Tanya Killen Secretary NIPSA Branch 705

Socialist Voice June 2003

Social workers across the 11 Community Health Trusts were prepared to take further strike action on 22 and 23 May in support of the claim for significant regrading. However, at the eleventh hour on the 21st, the Department worded a new proposal to put to members for consultation.

Shamefully, on 22 May the Department issued a false statement alleging that the strike action was suspended. Due to problems caused by the erroneous and unhelpful media reports, taking their line from the Department, on the first morning of the strike, the negotiating team were not able to give proper consideration to the terms of the draft document until that afternoon.

However, regardless of the Department's intentions - to confuse members and disrupt the action - members turned up solidly at the arranged picket lines. It was agreed to suspend the action on the second day, but not the overall industrial action and ongoing work to rule. However this will not be escalated until the reps. in the branches have had time to consult with members on the new offer.

Social Workers on the picket line, May 2003

The Department's proposal is that, with immediate effect, social work grades would get a point on the spinal scale backdated to 1 January this year. Following NIPSA's "co-operation" with a joint "Agenda for Change" testing exercise, they have offered a further spinal point with effect from 1 October. Although not written into the agreement, they have also indicated that, when social workers assimilate onto "Agenda for Change" they will receive a further pay point.

The apparent fixation of public service employers with the New Labour mantra of modernisation is to be condemned. To date, the evidence suggests that modernisation means savage cutbacks as in the fire dispute.

The "Agenda for Change" proposal needs to be carefully examined to see the full implications for our members and their terms and conditions. "Agenda for Change" includes three-year pay deals and a longer working week.

While not opposed to genuine modernisation, we must ensure that it improves the quality of the service and is not at the expense of terms and conditions. We have a legitimate pay claim which the Department have used to basically blackmail social workers into accepting "Agenda for Change" and the terms and conditions associated with it. We must in principle oppose this. The Department have conceded that social workers are underpaid.

They should meet the claim without unnecessary strings and the action will have to continue until they do.

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