A powerful Barnet picket line on Tuesday (Picture: Barnet Unison)

Unison union members at Barnet council in north west London began their first of six days of strikes on Tuesday.

The lively picket line saw support from other Unison branches and John McDonnell MP. The victorious Camden traffic warden strikers had already sent a video message from their mass meeting saying, “We won, so can you”.

Mental Health Social Workers across three teams had voted 100 percent for action have laid out a plan for escalating action. They are now set to walk out on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, as well as 10, 11 and 12 October.

The strike is over chronic staffing issues across frontline mental health teams.

The council gives adult social workers between 15 and 25 percent less in recruitment and retention pay than children’s social workers. And a lead practitioner with extensive experience and responsibility is paid only £1,000 more than a newly qualified social worker in a children and family team.

Barnet Unison says there is “no difference in the qualifications required” but “the only difference is the value placed on those roles by Barnet Council”.

Barnet’s joint branch chair John Burgess said, “Our members are not doing this lightly, but because their employer is not listening. When 100 percent of your workforce says they’re considering leaving you’d think they’d try to avert the strike.

“But we’ve not heard back so the strike is going ahead.”

John explained that the council pays a retention payment to all staff, but not to adult mental health social workers. “These payments vary from 7.5 to 25 percent.

“The council’s lousy and insulting offer to our members made them even more determined to strike. And they’re not the only ones fighting during this cost of living crisis.

“Junior doctors, who work with our members, are also determined that enough is enough. There is always money for the few and not the rest of us—13 years of Tory austerity has bought us to this point.”

And Unison’s greater London regional secretary Jo Galloway said, “These workers support the most vulnerable when they need it most. They need to be valued for the work they do, their experience and skills that keep the service running.”

The Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) team) is made up of social workers who have been approved to carry out certain duties under the Mental Health Act with additional training. They are responsible for coordinating assessments and admissions to hospital if an adult needs to be detained.

Yet Barnet Unison has accused the council of refusing to apply its own social work recruitment and retention policy to all social workers it employs.

The strikers want a recruitment and retention payment of 20 percent, but Barnet council only offered the equivalent of a 2.7 rise payment for two years only.

Barnet Unison added, “Social work members feel that a 20 percent payment will encourage more members of staff, particularly the most experienced, to stay.

“This would reduce the frequent and destabilising turnover they have been experiencing.”

For updates and solidarity details go here

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