Unions are demanding a 14% pay rise for family-courts staff this year, along with a longer-term exemption from civil service pay remit guidance to tackle low morale and dismal retention rates.
Unison and Napo, which represent public sector workers and probation and family-courts staff respectively, are also pushing for court and social workers at the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service – who are civil servants – to be removed from civil service pay remit guidance.
The non-departmental public body is subject to Cabinet Office guidance limiting average pay rises to 4.5% for 2023-24 – rising to 5% for the lowest-paid staff.
However, unions say Cafcass should be exempt from these conditions as its staff do not receive benefits seen elsewhere in the civil service, such as the Civil Service Pension Scheme and hybrid-working arrangements.
In their pay submission, the unions said it was “imperative” that Cafcass be released from the guidance and instead “be given the freedom and autonomy to compete with local governments on pay”.
Failing this, they said ministers must provide civil service-style benefits to the NDPB’s staff – such as bonuses and car-use allowances, which are offered to social workers who work at Ofsted.
Unison and Napo submitted their formal pay claim for Cafcass staff to receive a pay adjustment equal to RPI – then forecast to be 11.1% – plus 3% in April.
The unions are now targeting a 14.4% rise, following Office for National Statistics figures published this week showing RPI was 11.4% over the 12 months to April.
In the pay submission, the unions called for “urgent action” to reverse a high staff attrition rate said to “risk the stability and sustainability of the organisation and the work that it does”.
Staff turnover among social workers currently stands at 14.6%, compared with 9.9% pre-pandemic levels; while it has reached 12.2% for corporate staff, up from 9.7%.
“The derisory pay offers and the uncompetitive pay in Cafcass not only has an impact on the morale, household finances and wellbeing of our members, but it also has an impact upon the recruitment and retention of experienced and highly trained social workers who are needed to undertake this complex and demanding work,” the submission said.
The submission also calls for a strategic pay review, which it said would be “one of the most effective ways that this government can show it values our members and that it is serious about mending the damage that our members and the organisation has suffered under their watch”.
And it said staff should receive annual retention payments, which they said local governments are now offering their social workers in a bid to be more competitive.
Cafcass is examining the pay claim and negotiations are expected to take place this and next month.