Irish government’s new graduate scheme “dead in the water” after campaign by activists from the Social Work Action Network.

In Ireland February 2014, on foot of revelations that a “new graduate scheme” was being planned for newly qualifying social workers through the Child and Family Agency, social work students, practitioners and educators in the Social Work Action Network Ireland began to organise. This scheme, if implemented, would have:

  • Represented a cynical move to ‘drive down’ salaries within the social work sector and would install a new layer of ‘cheap labour’ within the profession.
  • It was likely to prompt other social work employers to also reduce starting salaries for newly qualified social work professionals.
  • It risked undermining the morale of the new agency by unilaterally seeking to undermine the terms of condition of employment.
  • It failed to recognise that fully qualified,CORU-registered social workers (CORU being the main registration body for social workers in Ireland) should be entitled, as part of the workforce, to salaries negotiated over a number of years.
  • It diluted the significance of CORU-accredited social work training programmes and ignored the fact that students will have already completed lengthy placements as part of their training.
  • It also conveyed the bogus idea that students emerging from social work programmes are all ‘young’, ignoring the fact that many newly qualified social work professionals are ‘mature’ and have accumulated a number of years of relevant experience even before commencing social work education.

What followed was a period of intensive organising. Through regular local meetings, substantial email contact and use of social media, the core members of the campaign reached out to as many people as possible. Student social workers, practitioners, academics, service users, groups facing similar issues, the professional association of social workers in Ireland (the Irish Association of Social Workers: IASW), IMPACT (the main union that represents social workers) and Teachtaí Dála were all contacted and asked to support the campaign.

Facebook, Twitter, websites, blogs and email lists were used to disseminate the main aims of the campaign. 
Practitioners active in the campaign who are members of IMPACT ensured that the issue was put firmly on the agenda in this arena. Pressure was placed on union representatives to engage with the Child and Family Agency and to ensure that the exploitation of new social workers was stopped.

SWAN protest at Dail Eireann 21st  March 2014 © Paula Geraghty

SWAN protest at Dail Eireann 21st March 2014 © Paula Geraghty

The general consensus of the steering group was that building alliances and solidarity, both within the social work profession and outside of it, should be core components of the campaign. This sentiment is in line with the core message of SWAN and with critical and radical social work practice.

For this reason, the steering group actively reached out to groups in similar situations in order to invite them to demonstrate with us. The groups that actively supported the demonstration and were in attendance on 21 March to show solidarity with the graduates affected by the scheme included the following: 
the We’re Not Leaving campaign; 
the Young Workers Network; 
the Union of Students in Ireland; 
the SIPTU LGBTQ Network; 
the Trinity College Students Union; 
the Anti Racism Network Ireland.
On 21 March, in the week of World Social Work Day, SWAN Ireland succeeded in holding a very successful national demonstration. The demonstration was filmed and gained some media coverage. It was supported by a number of government Teachtaí Dála and Rory Truell, secretary general of the International Federation of Social Work attended the demonstration and lent his support.

In the months that followed a steady pressure was placed on the Child and Family Agency by SWAN Ireland members, union officials, social work students, social work educators and union members in order to show that there was ongoing resistance to the introduction of the scheme. Social workers within in the union played a key role at this point in relation to maintaining pressure on union officials who negotiated on social workers behalf on this issue.

In late 2014 the CEO of the Child and Family Agency stated to social workers at a meeting that the scheme was ”dead in the water”. In March 2015 a national recruitment campaign for social workers was launched and students who qualify in 2015 are eligible to apply to this recruitment drive. This open recruitment drive is a clear message that the graduate scheme, as it was originally envisaged is indeed “dead in the water”. The initial campaign, spearheaded by student social workers themselves and the ensuing hard work by many dedicated individuals in SWAN, IMPACT and beyond, shows the value of collective action and strategic use of different spaces to achieve goals that benefit not only social workers as workers but which will hopefully serve to instill hope in others that change is possible.

Watch a video here of one of their protests

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
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Paula Geraghty

Journalist-Photography/video. Real people, real issues. Journalism of hope, about people who fight for a better world. @TradeUnion_TV Usual T&Cs apply

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