Mental Health social worker strike: “Why have talks broken down?”



Dear Barnet UNISON member

I am writing to all our members working for Barnet Council in answer to the question everyone is asking “Why has Barnet Council not reached an agreement over the mental health social worker dispute?”

The first point to make is that both sides are referring to two different groups of workers.

  1. In this dispute Barnet UNISON is representing members across three frontline mental health social work teams which is approximately 20 social workers.


  1. Barnet Council refuses to recognise there is a greater recruitment and retention issue in the mental health teams than across Adult Social Care. Barnet Council has not produced the evidence to show there is a wider issue of recruitment and retention. Barnet Council wants to make a lower payment to 200 staff working in Adult Social Care.


What is the latest offer?

Barnet Council is offering to pay 5% to 200 staff working in Adult Social Care (we understand they are social workers, OT’s, social worker and OT Team Managers and Lead Practitioners) on the condition that UNISON calls off the mental health social worker strike.

We know that the reason to make this payment is NOT linked to the criteria set out in the recruitment and retention policy. Therefore, this payment is outside the scope of that policy.

UNISON’s response is quite simple.

  • We have repeatedly told Barnet Council to go ahead and pay 5% to whoever you feel deserves 5% in Adult Social Care.
  • We don’t have a dispute on recruitment and retention in Adult Social Care beyond the Mental Health Social Work Teams.
  • Barnet Council is already making recruitment and retention payments for other staff in Adult Social Care. UNISON does not know which posts are currently being given this payment.
  • We have a lawful dispute with three mental health social work teams which involves approximately 20 social workers.

To end this dispute with approximately 20 mental health social workers, they need to receive a 10% (a reduction from our original 20%) recruitment and retention payment which will be reviewed after two years. If this is agreed, then the strike will end. We have already put this forward to management to end the dispute and it was rejected.

To be clear about the two proposals tabled (one from UNISON, the other from Barnet Council) as a way of ending the dispute:

  1. The 10% payment to approximately 20 mental health social workers is a recruitment and retention payment which will be reviewed after two years as with other recruitment and retention payments.


  1. The 5% payment, which is not a recruitment and retention payment, to be paid to Adult Social Care staff Barnet Council deems to deserve this money.


The resolve of our members remains strong, they deeply care about their service, and they have been brave enough to raise their heads above the parapet by bringing news of the mental health crisis across the three teams.  25 social workers will have left the service in the space of 22 months. To any reasonable person that should be a cause of concern but to date Barnet Council has not demonstrated that it fully understands the serious risks to service users because of not resolving this dispute.


What does this mean for other Council workers?

If Barnet Council has money spare to make a 5% payment to workers which is not linked to the objective criteria set out in their recruitment and retention policy, then UNISON will begin consultation with other groups of workers equally deserving and working hard across the Council starting with Assessment and Enablement Officers (AEOs) and our depot workers.

Finally, I want to thank every one of our members who has sent in messages of solidarity or visited our picket lines. We know there is overwhelming support for our strikers. This support is not confined to Barnet UNISON members but is also found in the wider UNISON family. Messages of support are coming in from across the UK including thousands of pounds in donations to our strike fund. The response from Barnet residents has been humbling, we have residents dropping off food parcels, donations, and messages of support. Together residents and strikers have handed out 10,000 newsletters explaining the dispute to workers and residents of Barnet, and we will soon have another 10,000 newspapers to deliver over the coming weeks and months.

I hope the next time I write to all members that it will be good news and that Barnet Council will have reached an agreement to end the dispute.

I want to wish all members good mental health and enjoy your weekend.

Best wishes

John Burgess

Branch Secretary

Barnet UNISON.

Breaking NEWS: Mental Health Social Worker Strike Escalates!

UNISON has sent a strike notification to the soon to be departing chief executive stating that our members will be on strike for the period between 3 June and 14 June.

Our previous strike timetable was as follows:

  • From 15 April to 26 April 2024 (two weeks). Already taken.
  • From 13 May to 1 June 2024 (three weeks).
  • From 17 June to 12 July 2024. (four weeks).

The strike notification in effect means our members will be on strike continuously from Monday 13 May until Friday 12 July a total of nine weeks.

This week our strikers, having faced gaslighting, threats of strike breaking via use of an agency and outsourcing, decided that “Enough is Enough”.

Barnet Council is not taking the dispute seriously and more worryingly they are underestimating the risks of the dispute continuing in respect of the wellbeing of service users. In fact their lack of understanding reinforces UNISON members’ view that there is a complete lack of understanding and experience of mental health social work right to the top of Barnet Council. The irony of continuing its Mental Health Awareness Week during escalating strike action in its Mental Health Service was lost on Barnet Council. Mental health social work is a specialist service. Not everyone is suited to the ongoing risks associated with the work.

We know that over 80% of the current social workers across the three teams had no experience of working as mental health social workers before they came to work in the Barnet mental health social work teams.

We know that 21 social workers have left these teams in the last 20 months. We have another social worker working their notice and we have just heard another social worker has left the team, add to that two of our most experienced mental health social workers are about to transfer to the NHS that makes a total of 25 social workers.

Nobody outside the senior management team in Barnet Council understands why this dispute has not been resolved. The reaction from our members in Adult Social Care is widespread disbelief. They know that there are serious staffing problems in the mental health teams, and they support our claim. Feedback from staff across the rest of the Council is full support and solidarity.

The reputation of Barnet Council amongst its own workforce is rapidly falling and as news of this dispute spreads there is a very real danger that Barnet Council will be viewed as not a good place for social workers.

The clock is ticking. Someone in Barnet Council needs to act now and meet UNISON halfway and resolve this dispute or risk further damage to the service and its reputation.







“Keep on running Frazier!” Solidarity for mental health strikers

**“Keep on running Frazier!” Solidarity for mental health strikers***

This weekend Barnet UNISON rep Frazier is running the Bristol Half-marathon and raising money for our Strike fund to enable our branch to support our mental health social worker strikers.

Today on the Barnet UNISON mental health social worker strikers made this short solidarity message to Frazier along to The Spencer Davis Group “Keep On Running”

He has surpassed his target of £500 but you can still donate by going to his just giving page below.

You can read more about the dispute here



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