West Dunbartonshire social work staff to be balloted on strike action
Unison is to formally ballot social work staff in West Dunbartonshire Council on strike action in a dispute over what the union describes as “unsafe practices” that are “putting vulnerable people at risk”, with the union warning the situation is in “meltdown”.
Claiming the local authority is in denial, the union said “excessive workloads, inappropriate working environments and health and safety problems such as stress” were behind the dispute and raised specific concerns about The Vale Health Centre and Aurora House, which, Unison claims, are “unsuitable for families to have contact visits”.
Unison has called on the council to provide “additional staffing resources” and for “improved working environments alongside a commitment to restore a fit-for-purpose Children and Families location”.
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.”
Macfarlane 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.
“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.”
Responding to the union’s claims, West Dunbartonshire Council said: “We are disappointed by this notice of strike, as we have continued to work closely with staff and trade unions to address their concerns since they were first raised.
“A number of actions have already been implemented including recruiting four new employees and using available agency staff to cover all outstanding vacancies until these posts are filled.
“Staff have been supported to work in additional locations across West Dunbartonshire, allowed to carry leave over until June and can receive payment for time off in lieu of more than 14 hours.
“We remain committed to working towards achieving a positive resolution for staff and the families in our community who need our support most.”
In a recent consultative ballot on the issue, 92 per cent of social work staff voted in favour of strike action on a ballot turnout of more than 87 per cent.