After a long wait, in the summer of 2018, both Independence Support Assistants and Higher Grade Social Workers working for Portsmouth City Council received grade uplifts. These regradings were well-earned but destabilised the overall pay structure. Through UNISON members working together and standing up for each other, Adult Social Care staff challenged and won fair re-grading across the department. In doing so they beat an unfair job evaluation scheme and came out not only better paid, but better organised.
The early upgrading for these roles was well deserved. But they left social workers employed on different grades feeling their case load responsibilities were too similar. Roles previously graded as equal were now on different grades and some were now graded equally despite different levels of management responsibility. The overall structure made no sense and UNISON members were left hurt and angry.
Members meetings organised UNISON stewards in Adult Social Care led to over 80 members putting their names to a collective grievance. This identified all the grading inconsistencies and outlined UNISON’s view that council’s job evaluation scheme was not fit for purpose. By the end of these meetings, there were UNISON activists elected for all the teams. This was crucial since it meant we could regularly talk to our members about their concerns on a face-to-face basis. It also meant we could take part in a joint committee with council management that was vital for positively upgrading some roles.
Despite our concerns about the council’s Job Evaluation Scheme, our reps still helped staff complete questionnaires and provide evidence about what their jobs really involved. But when the Main Grade Social Worker role was re-evaluated in autumn 2018, there was no change to the grading. When we questioned this, we were told the usual procedure had not been followed. It seemed that all our hard work had been ignored and an assumption made that the grade wouldn’t change. They hadn’t considered all the additional evidence we had provided.
Since there was no appeal within the Job Evaluation Policy, UNISON made our own. With no other option, we organised a consultative ballot for industrial action. We emailed this to all Main Grade Social Workers, who responded enthusiastically – almost 4 out of 5 returned their ballot, with over 9 out of 10 voting for strike action.
Unsurprisingly, management then agreed to re-examine as the questionnaires. On 3 April 2019, Portsmouth City Council agreed to upgrade Main and Higher Grade Occupational Therapists as well as Main Grade Social Workers.
There are still some issues to resolve with adult social care management – and it’s important that everyone gets the payments they are entitled to as soon as possible. But our success in ensuring our members are correctly graded shows how UNISON brings members together to get results. And if we can do it here, we can do it elsewhere too – when UNISON members we stand together and organise, we are a force to be reckoned with.
UNISON steward Jon Wood’s explained:
“Everyone is really pleased with the result. It has really strengthened our union organisation. Staff see UNISON as union that fights for them and they want to be part of it. When we stated the campaign last summer we didn’t know if would win but we knew if we stuck together we had a chance. We have shown there is power in a union.”