UNISON has held three separate weeks of member meetings across the council’s office hubs since the Ofsted report was published. We visited different offices each day from Monday to Friday in July, October and December.
This amount of direct contact has really helped branch negotiators to understand members’ views and concerns, to prioritise these and to represent them to senior management.
We retain a number of serious concerns. UNISON does not believe that political scrutiny of the service is yet up to scratch, despite this being singled out for heavy criticism by Ofsted. Councillors only hear from executive leaders, and not from UNISON. We established positive relations with scrutiny councillors in 2019, only to see those councillors moved off the committee in a reshuffle. We do not believe that the contact we have had with the now executive director for children’s services has been sufficiently deep or meaningful. Three recent negotiation meetings were cancelled by the service in 2019, with only one meeting being rescheduled. This must be improved in 2020. We have had some successes however and these are worth reflecting on:
- Recruitment and retention hotspots have been addressed;
- Incremental progression has been de-linked from appraisals;
- Wording on the £10,000 loan offer has been changed to protect staff on maternity or sick leave;
- The approach to forced redeployments has been amended;
- Environmental issues in Durban House were addressed.
That said, there is still a range of ‘big ticket’ items remaining to be addressed by the council, which we will continue to raise for members. These include:
- Lack of career progression for CFWs;
- Lack of wellbeing strategy (we are told work will begin on this in 2020);
- Audits and sudden demands for data.
It is clear after our December UNISON member meetings that:
- Instability within the service continues;
- A short-term culture and excessive use of ‘interims’ contributes to this;
- The long-hours culture prevails;
- There is not yet a culture where staff can safely challenge;
- HR processes feel oppressive rather than supportive.
Members also felt that bullying was an issue within the service, often resulting because staff are treated as a resource rather than people, and there is not a culture where it can be reported safely or with confidence. UNISON will be taking this up with the council, particularly as part of its bullying review.
UNISON will also be involved closely in the process of establishing a children’s trust. This will be a complex endeavour and take up a lot of branch time in 2020. But it will be vital to get it right, so that terms and conditions of staff are fully protected.
We have been advised that meetings between the children’s commissioner John Coughlan and UNISON will be established in 2020 and we look forward to those.
UNISON service reps are in close contact with the branch secretary and deputy branch secretary. A team of four attend meetings for UNISON with children’s service’s executive officers and HR. We will be involving early help reps directly within this team in 2020. If you want to be more involved, or to feedback on any issue, please get in touch. You can check for your local rep via our website.
Do also encourage colleagues to join UNISON. Most service staff are members, but there are still staff not in a union or remaining in British Association of Social Workers (BASW). It will not be a BASW or any other trade union rep conducting negotiations either with WSCC or the children’s trust. BASW are not recognised and have no role, and nor does any other union. Ask colleagues to join UNISON so we have the maximum strength of numbers and unity of purpose to further your interests at work.