By Democrat reporter
UNISON has today (Tuesday) served notice to West Dunbartonshire Council and the Health & Social Care Partnership that it will hold a formal industrial action ballot among social work staff.
The ballot will ask members to support taking action both in the form of strike action and action short of strike.
The move follows a recent consultative ballot where social work staff voted overwhelmingly to take strike action over concerns that unsafe practices are putting vulnerable people at risk.
The consultative ballot saw 92.3% of members voting in favour of taking strike action on a turnout of 87.8%.
The dispute concerns excessive workloads, inappropriate working environments and health and safety problems such as stress, lone working and time taken to get support in a crisis. UNISON has met with management on many occasions since our members lodged a collective grievance in early February.
Simon Macfarlane, UNISON regional organiser, said: “There still remain over 200 unallocated cases – that is unacceptable and exposes vulnerable children and families to risk and is a backdrop of constant worry to staff.
“Additional staff have not materialised, temporary staff have been let go recently, recruitment exercises have not filled all the vacancies. Despite constant highlighting of the inadequacies of current working environments there has been no meaningful response from management.”
Social work staff have raised concerns over The Vale Health Centre and Aurora House being unsuitable for families to have contact visits. This is despite receiving assurances from SNP-run council leader Cllr Jonathan McColl, pictured above right, when the decision to use these centres was made that they would be perfectly adequate.
Simon continued: “The location of the entire Children and Families team in Aurora House in Clydebank is not working. It means that staff working in the other end of the council are isolated and vulnerable.
“It is also unacceptable Social Work staff are expected to work in open office environments such as the council’s new headquarters in Church Street.
“They are often required to make sensitive phone calls and discuss serious issues in earshot of family members and neighbours of those concerned. This is adding to further stress in the workplace.
“West Dunbartonshire is not getting it right for any child let alone getting it right for every child.” (GIRFEC is the guiding principle for Children and Families social work services).”
Once again, this reveals that the Burgh Hall, which has cost £15 million and counting is not fit for purpose.
To resolve this dispute UNISON says urgent action has to be taken to provide additional staffing resources and for staff to be given improved working environments alongside a commitment to restore a fit-for-purpose Children and Families location.
Simon continued: “It’s time for the administration and management to act and deliver the necessary increased staffing and safe appropriate working locations. Despite powerful and disturbing evidence of the impact the current crisis is having on staff and the children and families they support, there has been little tangible improvement.
“We have done everything we can to make management and the administration realise things are in meltdown but they still demonstrate denial. Management still will not concede that current accommodation arrangements are an issue and are not appropriate for difficult and stressful contact meetings involving vulnerable children.
“It’s time for management and the SNP administration to admit that they got it wrong with their accommodation strategy and that austerity cuts are doing tremendous damage. They must urgently get more staff in, including trying far harder to get agency staff in the interim. We also need a clear commitment to a fit-for-purpose Children and Families base in the Dumbarton end of the council.”
“Our members are fighting for their safety, dignity and the services they provide. Management and the administration now need to do the same.”
Valerie Jennings addresses a recent trade union in the Concord Centre meeting called to discuss cuts in public services, including Social Work.