Action plan on Social Work staffing crisis
UNISON is calling for urgent meetings with minister Cathy
Jamieson and a local authorities' task group as Social
Work members kick off a campaign to confront the crisis
in recruitment and retention of staff.
And because low pay is a key element, a special UNISON
conference last month set up an action group to consult
on how best to push for better pay.
Edinburgh UNISON can take some credit for the local authorities'
task group - chaired by Edinburgh Councillor Kingsley
Thomas - after its grievance earlier this year called
for a review and a joint approach to the Scottish Executive.
The Branch Committee has already initiated talks locally
about a range of measures to tackle the crisis. Edinburgh
Children & Families Practice Teams are particularly hit
with staffing shortages, allocation problems and huge
pressure on staff. Residential units are also feeling
the pinch too. As the job gets more pressurised, it gets
harder to keep existing skilled and experienced staff.
Edinburgh's John Stevenson was among 50 reps from 29
of Scotland's 32 local authorities who reported on the
work they were already doing locally and forged the joint
action plan at the conference. "The picture was grim across
the country. Some councils are getting into a bidding
war, offering 'golden hellos'.
Everyone was clear that this wasn't solving the problem,
only moving it around", said John. "In addition, the morale
of existing staff is hit when new staff come in on better
"There were some positives about Edinburgh we should
hang onto. Our Senior Practitioner grade, negotiated 10
years ago, our supervision policies and practice and the
commitment to a qualified workforce are all things UNISON
and management have worked for in Edinburgh which are
not reflected in a lot of other authorities", he added.
"We need to tackle pay head on", said Stephen Smellie,
UNISON Local Government Group vice chair. There was broad
agreement that reviews of social work pay and structures
were needed - not exactly like the McCrone Report in Education
but perhaps a range of initiatives to address deep seated
And UNISON will use its voice to combat the demoralising
'blame culture' that pervades the press.
Crisis, what crisis?
Mike Kirby, UNISON Scotland Convenor told the conference,
"Vacancies are running as high as 25%, fewer people are
coming through colleges and only one in ten want to go
into children and families".
80% of staff were unqualified, wages had fallen behind
dramatically and violence to staff was on the increase,
especially in residential child care. Absences were higher
than in all other areas.
Challenging those who question whether this was a 'crisis',
Mike said, "In the dictionary a crisis is a time of danger...
but another definition is a turning point". The problems
certainly pointed to a crisis but the initiatives the
union could get involved in also offered a turning point.
Among the opportunities Mike listed was the CoSLA 'Recruitment
and Retention' task group set up under Edinburgh Councillor
"This is an opportunity for us to pick up the issues
with employers", said Mike. We also need to influence
the Action Plan for Social Services Workforce launched
in April by Cathy Jamieson, Minister for Education and
Young People - who has a social work background herself
- with targets varying from nine weeks to nine months.
"We broadly welcomed this but we are concerned at its
extent and that it does not address pay", said Mike. The
nearest the plan gets to pay is 'an economic study of
the labour market of children's services'. This is welcome
in part but Mike warned that it would only create further
problems if they only target that area.
The plan also aims to improve access to training for
experienced but unqualified staff.
"Many staff may not feel comfortable going straight into
further or higher education and there is a role here for
the Return To Learn initiatives", said Mike.
This was a key area, with many branches reporting Social
Work Assistants carrying a qualified worker's caseload.
Delegates also highlighted pressures on core services,
already at breaking point, as staff moved away to new
more attractive - but time limited - projects funded by
the Scottish Executive.
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Branch rejects reductions in public
The Branch Committee has unanimously rejected Council
proposals to convert six public holidays to six added
days on the normal holiday leave entitlement.
If the proposal had been accepted it would have meant
hundreds of workers who work on public holidays losing
money due to the withdrawal of double-time payments.
Day care staff, domestic and catering staff in residential
homes for the young and the old, mortuary staff, emergency
switchboard, those called out on standby and many other
categories of staff all stood to lose out.
The Branch Committee (made up representatives from all
departments and Branch Officers) rejected the proposals
on the basis that, whilst the change may suit some, it
would be unacceptable to accept a deal which would lead
to many low paid workers losing out.
The proposals were also condemned for allowing individual
directors to decide if the changes should be implemented
in full or partially. This meant some departments might
open on public holidays whilst others were shut.
All other unions in the Council have also rejected the
proposals. In response to the rejection the council has
withdrawn from talks on extending to all staff the ex-District
Council provisions for Career Breaks and Pre-retirement
provisions. These will continue to apply only to staff
who transferred from Edinburgh District Council in 1996.
A proposal to stop the abatement of Annual Leave in instances
of long-term Sickness Absence has also been withdrawn.
Commenting on the rejection Service Conditions Coordinator
John Mulgrew said, "The Branch Committee was unanimous
in rejection. The proposals may have been attractive to
some but we cannot forget that many of our colleagues
may be disadvantaged. It is for this reason that the Branch
Committee rejected the proposals".
Branch Secretary John Stevenson said "The Council's withdrawal
from discussions on the other issues is more than disappointing,
specially since the financial implications were minimal.
It will just maintain the anger of staff who see colleagues
getting benefits denied to them."
At time of print the Council has not responded to UNISON's
calls for these discussions to be reopened.
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Health fears at Powderhall
The Health and Safety Executive has issued a damning
report on working conditions at Powderhall Waste Transfer
A squad of staff from the Executive spent a full two
days in the workplace and found a catalogue of concerns
including the lack of safety barriers at the waste pits,
the risk of Legionnaires Disease due to filthy water tanks,
dangerous vehicles and open access for members of the
Worst of all was the presence of damaged asbestos.
The Station has now been closed to allow repairs and
refurbishment to be carried out but members within the
workplace are concerned for their long-term health given
it was certain they had breathed in spores when working
in the areas with damaged asbestos, In February the council
were aware there was a high risk of asbestos and decided
to carry out a site survey but did nothing until June.
This delay was slammed by the Executive who stated, "These
timescales and the limited extent of the survey did not
reflect any urgency to deal with a potentially high risk
The work environment was filthy and the report refers
to unacceptable levels of dust and the presence of large
amounts of bird droppings. What makes this situation even
worse was a Health and Safety Representative had submitted
a detailed report over two years ago but management had
simply ignored the concerns.
Service Conditions Convener John Ross pointed out "The
role of a Health and Safety Representative is laid down
in law. Management not acting on an official report is
just not on. How many of our members now have to live
with the threat of asbestosis hanging over them? Even
at this stage they are still resisting our calls for health
Once the station is ready to be reopened UNISON will
carry out a full inspection to ensure that members can
work in a safe environment and all health risks have been
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Branch wins mag and web double award
Edinburgh Branch won UNISON's Best Website award this
year and was second in the UK magazine competition. Webmanager
John Stevenson picked up the £100 award for the Branch.
The site was described as "a veteran site (it was the
first Branch site in Scotland) that has been re-designed"
with a clean and simple design and lots of information.
This is the second time we have won the award.
UNISONNews was described as "an excellent example of
a well-designed newsletter with lots of news". And that
brought a prize of £250 for the Branch.
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400,000 plus reasons to join
UNISON won Personal Injury Settlements from £400 to £84,000
for members in Scotland in June and July. The total figure
topped £412,000. Yet more examples to use when urging
colleagues to join.
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Leith Street staff win up to £1600
Members in Leith Street Hostel are celebrating pay increases
following the conclusion of months of negotiations with
In June 2001 local steward Gary Peden discovered staff
were being shortchanged in shift allowances. Years previously
the staff, who had fluctuating weekly earnings due to
shift arrangements, persuaded management to pay anticipated
annual earnings in 12 equal payments across the year.
But last year eagle-eyed Gary discovered the original
formula was flawed. Following very complex negotiations
members achieved back payments of up to £1600 and annual
increases of nearly £500 each.
Service Conditions Convener John Ross said "If it had
not been for Gary's perseverance the members would not
have achieved this marvellous result. This demonstrates
what can be achieved when you have a good local steward
who acts in the interests of their members."
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|| First negotiated
deal won after years of imposition
Leisure members accept single status and pay deals
Following months of tough negotiating and two ballots
of the membership, agreement has been reached with Edinburgh
Leisure on a three year pay deal and the creation of a
new pay spine which will be applied to all staff.
"It was a narrow vote on Single Status", said George
Lee, UNISON Edinburgh Service Conditions Convenor (Manual).
"The deal is intended to address differences in employment
contracts between staff who transferred from the Council
and new staff who were on lesser conditions", he added.
The deal moves all posts into six pay bands, consolidates
bonuses, shift allowances, weekend enhancements for all
staff and includes an earnings detriment protection clause
for those whose consolidated wage is more than their pay
Employees old and new will now be paid the same overtime
payments and a standard working week of 35.75 hours will
be introduced by April 2005. Edinburgh Leisure also intends
to introduce a flexible benefits package (ELFLEX) to encourage
recruitment and retention.
Consolidation for all
George Lee said "This deal was a long time in the coming
and while it does not address all the previous discrepancies
between staff groups, it represents a significant improvement
in pay for some and consolidation of bonuses and allowances
At the time of going to press, UNISON was in further
discussions to fine-tune and clarify elements of the deal.
The ballot on pay brought an overwhelming yes vote for
a three year pay deal. A 1.5% plus £200 rise in 2002 will
be followed by 4% in 2003 and 1.5% plus £200 in 2004.
"The combination of percentage and flat-rate weights
the overall package towards the lower paid", said George.
This is the first negotiated pay settlement with Edinburgh
Leisure for three years. prior to that, the Trust had
unilaterally applied pay awards.
"While this deal goes some way to addressing low pay,
there are still many of our members working for Edinburgh
Leisure and having to claim benefit!", added George.
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£5 victory for NHS staff
The latest victories in the Health Service, especially
for a £5 an hour minimum wage, are a 'wake up call' to
the Scottish Executive, says Jim Devine, UNISON Scottish
Organiser for Health.
Following the Lothian Acute branch success, there have
now been victories in Argyll and Clyde and in the Sodexho
dispute at Glasgow Royal Infirmary.
"The barriers against £5 an hour for Health Service Workers
have now been ripped down", said Jim.
On 15 August, members at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary
celebrated victory after their strike action won a £5
an hour minimum pay deal from a private contractor. The
ancillary staff - including cleaners, caterers, domestics
and porters - agreed an offer with Sodexho after a day
The deal also included a phased return to former NHS
terms and conditions of employment, guaranteed to take
place by April 2004.
- The Scottish Local Government three year deal brought
a £5 minimum from last year.
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Where does the broom go?
Many of our members perform generic duties. For example
it is commonplace for reception staff to deal with the
public and perform routine office duties. In general they
carry out a wide range of tasks which were previously
carried out by different groups.
So when management in City Development suggested generic
working in some areas, local stewards were not overly
concerned and waited for the anticipated full consultation.
It was not until job descriptions were released that
the full extent of generic working became clear. Members
will be aware of the detail normally recorded in Job Descriptions
to ensure it is a fair reflection of the duties and responsibilities.
This time the main job description (drafted locally and
without the involvement of anyone trained in the drafting
of job descriptions) contains only 9 bullet points and
it will not take you long to read the substance of this
- To undertake records management duties:
To provide maintain and develop revenue earning services:
To provide an enquiry service:
To process (income generating) applications:
To undertake general clerical, admin and secretarial
To undertake Reception duties: To undertake telecommunication
To assist in other duties assigned from time to time:
Develop a working knowledge and appropriate skills to
carry our tasks across all activities within Service Development.
And that is it!
Branch President Joe Galletta said "This is laughable.
There is no way one individual can learn all the knowledge
required to deal with the switchboard, to carry out finance
tasks, to process planning and building control applications,
be a secretary and handle enquiries in all the services
we provide. They may as well say your job is to do what
you're telt, when you're telt and be thankful you've got
Despite UNISON requests for talks, management have written
to all the staff involved saying their new job is now
formally in place and that, without discussion, a new
grade of GS 2/3 is in place. Members have made it clear
the extent of the expected generic working is unacceptable
and are working to their old Job Descriptions.
As one irate member said "I may as well stick a broom
up my a*** and sweep the floor as well".
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Registrars fight for local deal
Ever thought of getting married on the top of Arthurs
Seat or in the penguin enclosure in Edinburgh Zoo? Well
you may be able to with changes in the law.
The Scottish Executive has put through changes which
will allow weddings to be conducted by Registrars outwith
the usual Registrars Offices and beyond normal working
This raises many issues like safety factors and how this
will be managed on top of the normal daily functions.
Members recently attended a meeting in Glasgow where
they were advised the law states the council cannot make
surpluses or profits from the extended service but it
was clear many authorities were planning to do just that.
The meeting heard several councils had accepted this
was a unique situation and that special payments to staff
Our council has adopted its usual Scrooge attitude. Despite
charging several hundred pounds for these special ceremonies
they are only offering staff normal overtime payments.
Members were rightly outraged and are seeking special
payments in line with other councils.
Negotiations are being led by Service Conditions Coordinator
John Mulgrew who said, "If the council follow through
with the overtime proposal we will boycott the work. We
want real recognition for the work these staff do and
will call upon the Scottish Executive to check the books
to see where the monies charged is going."
Watch this space!
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Education debate must include school
UNISONScotland has warned that school support staff must
be included in the National Education debate.
In an initial response to the Scottish Executive Debate,
UNISON points out that, although support staff have a
key educational role, they appear to have been ignored
by the Executive.
"UNISON members are involved in all aspects of education",
said Joe Di Paola, UNISON Scottish Organiser for local
"Caring, protecting, assisting and directly teaching
our kids. Yet both the pack and the video that introduce
the National Debate ignore them. McCrone's proposals could
mean increasing loads on support staff."
The union's response details a number of initiatives
that members are already involved in - including improving
the status of Nursery Nurses; campaigning for Free School
Meals; better conditions for term-time only staff and
opposing the use of PFI to build and run new schools.
Agnes Petkevicius, Edinburgh UNISON Education Convenor
said, "PFI aggravates the split between teaching and support
staff. Breaking up the team by transferring a whole range
of support staff to the private sector, to employers whose
motivation is profit - not education. It is also increasingly
being exposed as an ineffective and inefficient use of
See the full response at www.unison-scotland.org.uk
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Reviewing UNISON's unique political
UNISON National Conference called for the review of the
political funds to be top priority. The National Executive
had mounted a huge consultation exercise over last year
and had wanted more time to complete it after a progress
report this year. But this was not enough for most delegates.
But Conference was by no means unanimous in its views
about the funds. For example, attempts to amend a motion
on public services to withhold funds from the Labour Party
and restrict support to MPs were defeated.
The outcome of Conference can be seen to demonstrate,
on the one hand, a continued antipathy to New Labour policies
and on the other, a distinct lack of enthusiasm for resolving
these problems by attacking UNISON'S links with the Labour
Party and MPs.
The current review document identifies a number of issues
and below are just a few samples.
How can UNISON branches use the political funds better
to promote UNISON policies at a local level? - branches
should affiliate to and send delegates to all constituency
labour parties - branches should be in contact with and
put pressure on their local MPs, particularly those in
the UNISON Group of MPs, MSPs/AMs. - question as to the
degree to which the GPF can be used for indirect assistance
to political parties, for example, research for the Liberal
Democrat front bench.
How can current fund arrangements be improved and
better co-ordination achieved? - the funds should
be more transparent, democratic and workable - more regional
co-ordination of GPF funding. Impact of devolution and
regional economic and social policy initiatives and union
response - both funds should be subject to democratic
control by the levy payers
What would be the advantages and disadvantages of
disaffiliating from the Labour Party or funding candidates
from other parties? - disaffiliation would take away
the choice of paying the APF levy from the 600,000 members
who choose to do so
- the majority view appears to be against disaffiliating
from the Labour Party
- this view seems to be shared by some groups on the
left who would like to see an alternative to Labour in
the longer term. Other groups believe it has become a
party of big business, and that the trade unions should
sever the link immediately - supporters of parties such
as the SNP believe that they should not be denied access
to political fund money
- affiliation is not simply a question of giving money
to the Labour Party
- it involves membership and representation at all levels
of the party
- the ability to affiliate and play a part in the party
structure does not appear to be on offer from other political
- the Labour Party has ceased to be a trade union party.
Parts of the leadership are uncomfortable with the link
- scrapping the current arrangement in favour of one
political fund would enable the union to put money where
it is most effective, including Labour and other candidates
and organisations as well
- disaffiliation would mean UNISON losing its voice and
influence on the political stage, leaving the field to
- the trade unions created the Labour Party and disaffiliation
would break faith with a tradition over a century old.
Funding should be made available to candidates who
back UNISON policy whether in a political party or not
- the union could find itself backing candidates standing
against each other which would make UNISON a laughing
stock - difficult to find a party that had policies identical
in every way to UNISON's - local and national links with
CLPs and MPs/MSPs/ help UNISON to get issues taken forward
- there would be a problem with allocating funds fairly
- for example there are many times more Conservative supporters
in UNISON than say the Socialist Alliance or SNP.
The review is due to report in December.
Picking up on using our links to promote UNISON's policies,
APF Officer Matthew Crighton and Branch Secretary John
Stevenson have started on a series of meetings with local
MPs and MSPs and have already met with Alistair Darling.
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UNISON's political funds explained
UNISON has two political funds and members can choose
to join one, both or none. Only members of the fund can
make decisions about the fund. Both funds were set up
by ballot of the membership when UNISON was formed.
The Affiliated Political Fund
This is by constitution affiliated to the Labour Party.
General union funds do not go to the Labour Party - the
only money used for campaigning in the Labour Party or
other organisations related to the Labour Party, is the
money paid by Affiliated Fund members.
The General Political Fund
This is used for general political campaigning on issues
like the campaign for the Scottish Parliament, UNISON
Scotland's Manifesto for Public Services, against PFI
and for a range of advertising initiatives.
A court ruled (under the old NALGO union) that the union
would not be able to campaign on 'political' issues without
This fund cannot be used for donations to any political
UNISON and SAMWU twin
UNISONScotland and the South African Municipal Workers
Union met at Conference in Bournemouth in June to formally
sign and discuss twinning links.
As they met, Roger Ronnie (SAMWU General Secretary) and
Lance Veotte (second and third from the right) got news
that SAMWU had resolved to embark on a national wage strike.
After three weeks of strikes, when sadly some strikers
were killed, SAMWU won a deal on 19 July bringing a 9%
rise and inflation plus deals to 2005.
For more information see: www.unison-scotland.org.uk/samwu
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Best wishes as Denis returns to South
After 17 years in Britain, Denis Goldberg returned to
his South Africa homeland in July - not to retire of course,
but to become an advisor to the Minister of Water and
The Branch sent him off with a special quaich and a book
of the trade union banners from the Peoples Story museum.
Denis won enormous respect in UNISON and became a great
friend and regular visitor to the Branch, first working
for the ANC, then setting up Community HEART - the charity
working for health, education and reconstruction training
in South Africa.
Born in Cape Town in 1933, he became active in the ANC-led
Congress Alliance of South Africa in the 1950's, becoming
a technical officer for the underground armed wing, UmKhonto
we Swize (Spear of the Nation).
He was jailed in 1964 at the Rivonia trials and while
in prison he and Nelson Mandela were adopted as patrons
by the United Democratic Front alliance of 700 anti-apartheid
Denis spent 22 years in prison and joined his family
in exile in Britain in 1985 on his release.
Anyone who has had the pleasure to hear Denis speak -
or better still, sit down and chat with him - knows that
measured, quiet but incisive manner that hushes and sucks
in audiences to hang on to his every word.
"I could have listened to him all night", said a UNISON
member after a meeting on Palestine in Edinburgh last
year. Perhaps a measure of his commitment and courage
was that he spoke at a series of meetings backing the
cause of the Palestinians just after September 11, creating
a much-needed dignified and thoughtful debate when there
was danger of anger and retribution. His words as someone
of Jewish descent were all the more significant.
At a quiet lunch in Edinburgh some years ago, a colleague
asked Denis if he was not concerned that the thousands
of books he was collecting for South Africa school libraries
were in English portraying mainly white children.
After explaining that culture was hugely important, but
that children needed English to empower themselves, Denis
said with that familiar mischievous grin, "I went to a
white school and ended up in the Spear of the Nation.
School is only part of your socialisation, you know".
Asked whether he was able to keep in touch with old comrades
in the new South Africa he recalled that Nelson Mandela
once complained Denis had not been in touch. "Have you
ever tried phoning the President?", Denis asked him.
The Branch wishes Denis all the best for the future.
Community H.E.A.R.T. 3-5 St John Street Manchester,
M3 4DN 0161 254 7505 firstname.lastname@example.org
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Call to boycott Israeli goods
The Branch has backed the STUC call for a boycott of
Israeli goods to to put pressure on the Israeli government
to withdraw from the occupied areas, respect human rights
(including right of refugees to return to their homes
and lands) and obey International law.
A comprehensive list of goods can be found at: www.boycottisraeligoods.org/
- in the meantime read the label.
The boycott comes at the request of our colleagues in
the Palestinian trade unions. Their members are currently
suffering up to 60% unemployment because of limitations
on movement and have suffered under occupation for years.
When Iraq is being condemned for failing to implement
UN resolutions, Israel continues to ignore 66 such resolutions.
As UNISON's John McFadden told the STUC after his recent
visit to Palestine, Israel and Egypt, "Individual acts
of terror, whether September 11 or suicide bombings in
Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, must be condemned. The murder of
innocent civilians can only prolong the agony. But the
actions of any nation that responds in the way Israel
has and the US plans to do in Iraq, must also be condemned".
"One of the more positive signs we encountered was the
attitude of the Israeli trade union centre, Histadrut,
in opposing Sharon, although they and Israeli peace campaigners
are treated similarly to Palestinians when they try to
"What is needed is to deal with the issues of oppression
and poverty. Removing the breeding grounds for terror
will be more effective in 'rooting out terrorism' than
all the tanks and bombs", he said.
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