Barnet social workers strike as council claims demands are “simply not sustainable”

UNISON says a new payment is needed to both retain and attract mental health social workers for the borough reports David Floyd

Barnet Council’s offices in Colindale

Mental health social workers have started a ten-day strike as part of ongoing pay dispute with Barnet Council.

Members of the public sector workers’ union UNISON are demanding a ‘recruitment and retention payment’, which they say is necessary to help the council both hold on to experienced staff and find new workers for the mental health team. 

The union says that a supplement is provided for social workers in family services but not in mental health, and that this is resulting in mental health staff leaving and residents waiting for extended periods to receive mental health support. However, Barnet Council says that meeting the union’s demands is “simply not sustainable”. 

Explaining the decision to take action, UNISON London regional organiser Steve Terry said: “Social workers do not want to strike. They’re passionate about their jobs, and would rather be supporting those that need help the most.

“Talks have been held at conciliation service Acas and the hope is that an agreement can be reached before this vital service is disrupted further.”

UNISON Barnet branch secretary John Burgess said: “Social workers are determined to be paid fairly for the difficult jobs they do.

“They’ve already taken several weeks of industrial action and will carry on until Barnet Council listens and works with the union to find a way forward.”

Responding to the action and the union’s claims, a Barnet Council spokesperson told Barnet Post: “Barnet UNISON has requested a 20% recruitment and retention payment for qualified social workers in the three teams. While we appreciate how hard our mental health social workers work, we are not aware of any London borough paying a market supplement for recruitment and retention just to mental health social work teams, nor of a greater recruitment and retention challenge in those teams compared to the wider Adult Social Care service.

“A 20% increase in pay is simply not sustainable. It will put more financial pressure on the services we offer our residents.

“However, we do take the challenges facing the service seriously and we are working hard to improve the work environment for staff, as well as the outcomes for residents. We are now implementing a range of improvements, including recruiting more staff, and this is leading to a reduction in waiting times and an improvement in practice quality, as recognised in our most recent external audit.

“We are more than willing to continue to be at the negotiating table and are very hopeful of resuming talks with UNISON.”

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