Aberdeenshire UNISON

Local Government Service Group Conference 17th/18th June 2007

Asylum guidance for social work staff across UK

Branch members were in action at the Local Government Conference as delegates backed Scotland's call for guidance for UNISON members who work with asylum seekers, based on the guide, "child's welfare paramount?" This was produced by UNISON Scotland and the British Association of Social Workers after this branch raised the issue at UNISON's Scottish Council.

Kate Ramsden, Branch chairKate Ramsden, Branch Chair, told conference how UNISON Scotland had come to produce the guide. She slammed the appalling practices of the immigration services and the inhumane way they treat asylum seeker families and their children.

"We have been very clear that our members should not collude with such practices," she said. "However, we believe that our members should provide a service to these vulnerable families as they would to any other."

She went on, "We believe that the worst aspects of immigration and asylum law can and should be challenged by social work laws. However asylum and immigration is a reserved matter. Most asylum seekers live in England and it is our social work members there who, every day, are having to deal with these issues and provide support to vulnerable asylum seekers. These members need and deserve guidance and support from their trade union."

Bob Revie, Branch secretaryBob Revie, Branch Secretary, speaking in his role as a member of the Service Group Executive, the ruling body of UNISON's Local Government Service Group, welcomed the proposal and commended UNISON Scotland for its excellent work on this issue.

"We agree completely that our members must work within social work law and professional codes of practice when providing services to asylum seeker children and vulnerable adults, and we accept fully that we must provide support and guidance for our members working in this difficult area," he said.

Conference also set policy on a number of key issues which had UK relevance. The equalities agenda had a high profile, and conference pledged to ensure that all aspects of the equality duties laid down by government are implemented by Local Authorities and other employers to the benefit of our members, as employees and service users. Duties in respect of gender; disability; race and sexual orientation are all now in place and UNISON will have a key role to make sure that they address discrimination in the workplace and more widely.

Local Government delegationIt urged branches to ensure that all workplaces have in place policies to address the widespread but still often hidden problem of domestic abuse and called for support systems for the victims of domestic violence.

And it called for greater investment in the social care sector and proper and adequate funding for the community and voluntary sector, both to improve the working conditions of our members and to ensure quality services to those who need them.

The conference also heard about UNISON Scotland's work on Direct Payments. Spearheaded by the Social Work Issues Group, a joint statement has been agreed between the union and key Scottish disabled peoples' organisations, with an aim to empower disabled people to live independent lives, and to provide good conditions of employment to those providing the services, including the right to join a trade union.

Fringe meeting on social work issues
Kate Ramsden was one of the speakers as around 80 delegates from across the UK packed into the Scottish Fringe meeting on the Sunday evening to hear about the work of Scotland's Social Work Issues group, with a focus both on the Direct Payments statement and the Asylum Guide. Click here for a full report.

Despite the devolution agenda, however, much of the business continued to have greatest relevance for our colleagues in England. Conference set key policies on pay, pensions and education, but these were focussed on the situation in England and Wales. Scotland has its own bargaining machinery (and indeed its own parliament) and negotiates pay and pensions separately.

Your branch delegation believes that this conference has an important role to play in developing UK wide policies on a range of matters, but should be divided so that one day is devoted to business with a UK relevance whilst the other focuses on the issues relevant to England and Wales.