The Socialist 19 July 2007 |
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Glasgow social workers vote for indefinite strike
Six hundred social care workers (SCW), employees of social work services in Glasgow city council and members of UNISON, are due to begin all-out indefinite strike action from Tuesday 24 July. The action is in response to the council's refusal to recognise the skills and knowledge required by staff for their case-holding responsibilities.
Ian Leech, UNISON steward Glasgow social work services
Glasgow city council recently unveiled its 'workforce pay and benefits review' (WPBR) as part of its response to the equal pay requirements that have affected every local authority in Britain. The WPBR saw a total restructure of the pay and grading framework and initially proposed 16% cuts in the annual salary of the workforce.
Only the threat of a three-day, council-wide strike with no 'life and limb cover' forced the council into a retreat - its first for many years.
The WPBR sees all staff grouped into 'job families' and positioned at a level depending upon the outcome of a job evaluation. Each level has a 'role profile' allocated which has replaced the previous 'job description'.
According to the council: "Role profiles list the main activities you need to carry out your job...".
However, the old job descriptions gave a clearer picture of a worker's tasks and duties. The role profile is deliberately general.
Social care workers have been issued with a role profile that is worded in such as way as to exclude certain crucial case management tasks, eg the production of case reports for external bodies and also liaison with partner agencies.
In response, the SCWs submitted evidence to a review panel, arguing that they should be placed on a higher grade level and one that 'fitted' the case work duties currently undertaken.
The review panel rejected this argument but the council still insisted that the SCWs should continue with their full case-management duties, threatening to suspend any staff refusing to do so.
An industrial action ballot returned a 93% vote in favour of a "work to job-profile" and 87% in favour of strike action. The social work stewards committee, with members of International Socialists (CWI Scotland) in leading positions, agreed a plan for members to hand back cases. In the event of suspensions an immediate walk-out would take place and official industrial action commence.
The council sought legal advice to prevent this tactic, citing anti-trade union legislation that requires the union to inform the employer of the date of actual strike action. Their manoeuvre resulted in the postponement of the action.
Following this, a mass meeting was called by the stewards committee for all SCWs and staff affected (social workers, practice team leaders, operations managers) to debate the way forward.
Far from being cowed by the council's threats, the meeting voted almost unanimously to name the day for official all-out strike action to begin. In addition, the union were instructed to create a trade dispute to facilitate other social work staff being balloted within weeks of the SCW strike starting.
The mass meeting illustrated the built-up anger felt by workers in the public sector who have put up for years with cuts, attacks on conditions and privatisations. It also demonstrated the unity that all future battles will require when moving into action against employers.