Homeless caseworkers’ strike

UNISON Fair Pay stickerby Richie Venton, SSP national workplace organiser Seventy caseworkers in Glasgow city council’s Homeless Service have been staging an indefinite strike since 31 March. These workers, members of UNISON, are battling against being paid a grade lower than 400 other workers doing very similar frontline jobs in other areas of the Social Work department. All they ask for is parity.

Those on strike provide a critical service to many of the city’s most vulnerable people. Between them, the 70 strikers have nearly 3000 people on their caseloads. They assess the needs of homeless people and families, organise and oversee crucial support for them, helping them get emergency, temporary and permanent accommodation.

But they are being treated with high-handed contempt by senior management and the Labour council, who have refused to even meet them for negotiations. Instead of awarding these key workers the job evaluation they richly deserve, the Council is squandering £millions of taxpayers’ money to use expensive private B&B accommodation, to pretend all is normal despite the strike.

I spoke to UNISON shop steward Stuart Graham about the background and issues at the heart of a dispute that deserves the fullest solidarity of all workers.

“This is a pay dispute over the concept of care management within social work. We identify issues impacting on people’s ability to sustain accommodation, then put services in place by making initial referrals, advocating on behalf of the service user, reviewing the services after a suitable time, and changing them where necessary.

“We want members of the public to get the best service they can, because after us they have nothing; we are their final service. For eight years, we’ve had managers saying we provide this high level of care management.

“The council was only too happy to tout our statistics on reducing homelessness when they come under criticism during winter months. But after we lodged a collective grievance about our grading in November 2013—which wasn’t acknowledged until February 2014—management agreed that we do provide all these services, but because we’re on a grade lower they claimed this can’t possibly be a Care Management function, only an aspirational form of care management! We find this arrogant and patronising.

“We’ve always reduced homelessness amongst marginalised people, but the level of contempt from senior management reflects the service group we represent. There’s a fundamental disconnect between front line staff and senior management; they genuinely don’t realise how much work we do to reduce homelessness.

“When collective grievances got us nowhere we held a strike ballot at Xmas, with 84 per cent voting for an indefinite strike. Once the decision was reached, 100 per cent of UNISON members have come out on strike. But despite that, Glasgow city council have not come near the negotiating table. We first held a nine-week work to rule, during which 300 households were identified as needing our services.

“But instead of resolving the issue the council left these people in limbo, in temporary accommodation, without the services they’re entitled to. The council has tried to put on a ‘business as usual’ front during the strike, at first telling people it was an IT problem and that we’d be back at work within a week! Their claims of maintaining a full service is a joke; we can barely do that with the full workforce!

“The solidarity from other trade unionists, especially others in social work who have refused to do our work, has been tremendous. Only managers are trying to cover our work. People in Glasgow can help us by contacting their councillor to ask why they’re not negotiating with the workforce in a legitimate, democratically mandated industrial dispute.

“If people are in need of the services we provide they should demand them of the council, rather than be fobbed off. They are entitled to that—it’s a statutory obligation—and that’s what we pay taxes for.”

• These workers need and deserve all forms of solidarity. To send donations to their strike fund, or send messages of support, or ask for a striker to address your union meeting. Contact: enquiries@glasgowcityunison.co.uk

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