Social workers on the Barnet picket line in London (Picture: Barnet Unison on Twitter)

Mental health social workers in Barnet, north London, began a three-day strike over pay on Tuesday. 

The Unison union members are demanding recruitment and retention bonuses that match the borough’s children’s social workers, who get up to 25 percent of their pay. Barnet council has offered just 2.6 percent to social workers within the mental health social care service. 

The strikers also set to walk out from next Tuesday to Thursday and 4 to 8 December this year. They’ve announced action next year from 15 to 19 January, 5 to 9 February and 4 to 8 March. This follows a day of action in September and five others in October.

Helen Davies, joint chair of Barnet Unison, told Socialist Worker that strikers’ spirits are “good”. “They’re determined to go for it,” she said. “They’re pissed off at the council, but the messages of solidarity keep them buoyed.”

On Tuesday all adult social workers struck in Brighton and Hove, and Leeds council’s family service workers have voted to strike. “This has given our strikers strength and the feeling that this is the right thing to do,” said Helen. “It stops them feeling isolated.” 

But the council is still not negotiating. “We thought there’d be discussion about issues that the teams are facing. Yet there’s no sense that the council is going to shift its position,” explained Helen.

“The crisis in the adult mental health service is screaming. Workers are breaking down all the time because their cases are stacking up and the pressure is getting worse.

“Something has to shift. The council says family services have a high retention and recruitment payment because their comparison is agency workers. But we have agency workers in adult services too.

“In fact, agency workers are paid £10-15,000 more. Workers are leaving because they’re paid £20,000 more in the NHS with less workloads.

“The council isn’t acknowledging any issues—from pay to retention—and thinks it can ride this out. But the waiting lists are just going to continue to grow, which will have a terrible effect on service users.

“And with every passing day, there’s a high risk that more workers will leave the service. The council doesn’t seem to be taking that seriously. We’re not feeling any support from the national union at the moment either.”

Despite the stubbornness from the council bosses, the strikers are determined to win. They are also planning a showcase in the House of Commons on Tuesday 5 December, and a mobilisation for the full council meeting at the end of January. 

Every trade unionist should back the Barnet workers’ strikes for pay and to defend social services. 

Join picket lines outside Barnet council’s main office at 2 Bristol Avenue, London NW9 4EW from 8am-12 noon

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