SOCIAL workers responsible for the care of some of the most vulnerable people in Southampton were today due to become the latest to walk out of work in the increasingly bitter dispute over forced council pay cuts.
Many of the city’s vital services for elderly and young people will be slashed back to minimum levels by the 24-hour strike.
The action is the latest in the ongoing battle between unions and city council bosses over the forced pay cuts of up to 5.5 per cent that saw thousands of workers dismissed and re-employed on new terms and conditions.
Leaders at the authority have described the strike by members of the adult and children’s services safeguarding teams as “not a step too far, but a mile too far” because of the increased risk to vulnerable people from reduced services.
But Unison and Unite deny anyone will be in danger.
The unions say members are outraged over the council paying a £1,400 “market supplement” to some social workers to cover the impact of the pay cuts and stop staff leaving for jobs elsewhere.
Urgent talks between council bosses and unions have seen some exceptions put in place to ensure essential and urgent operations are available, with staff employed through agencies not taking part in the strike.
Cases have been prioritised and nonessential work has been rescheduled until next week.
More than 450 social workers, including some who have been offered the extra cash, were expected to join today’s walkout.
Meanwhile, more than 50 members of staff from the fostering, adoption and residential childcare teams will then stay on strike until Tuesday.
They were all due to join hundreds of other angry workers at a rally in Guildhall Square aimed at showing councillors the strength of resolve among union members to continue to fight the changes.
Deputy council leader Cllr Jeremy Moulton said the council’s main priority has been ensuring that vulnerable children and adults are not affected by the strikes.
He said: “The council has negotiated with the unions for a number of exemptions to the industrial action to ensure people remain safe. Along with the contingencies in place, the council will be able to operate a safeguarding service in the city.
“While we strongly disagree with the union decision to bring social workers out on strike, we will continue talks with the trade unions to try to end the industrial action and find common ground and a way forward.”
Unions announced yesterday that business support workers within the children’s safeguarding team will now stage a 24-hour strike on Tuesday.
They had been due to join today’s walkout, but a mistake with the notification given by Unison to council chiefs meant they had to be excluded from the action.