Youth workers set to rebel

13th February 2004 at 00:00
Youth and community workers have just held their first national ballot on industrial action and they've agreed that it's time to take drastic action.

To put it bluntly members of the Community and Youth Workers Union (CYWU) have had enough.They've decided that too much is being done by too few for too little.

Members working just six hours a week, now have to deliver at a standard equivalent to heads of school departments and they're typically being paid less per hour than the young people they're educating.

Experienced practitioners, skilled in the methods of face-to-face intervention and relationship building, are leaving the profession in droves.

The crisis has now become almost laughable. We need four thousand extra full-time youth workers to meet government targets. CYWU supports the Government's targets for youth and community work, and indeed helped formulate them, but our employers simply won't let us deliver on these targets.

In fact they are using at least pound;13 million that was set aside by the Government for youth and community work on other things. If our employers hadn't wasted this money my members could all have had at least a 10 per cent pay rise and we'd still have enough cash left over to build new youth centres.

Local authorities are not even trying to solve an acute set of recruitment and retention problems. They are simply proposing to downgrade our qualifications and to keep our wages at poverty level.

To add insult to injury, the employers reorganised last October and we have had no one to negotiate with since then.

We've been quite tolerant of our employers neglect in the hope that common sense would eventually prevail. After all our members raised at least pound;100m last year from other sources to help support community groups.

But we can no longer mask the local authorities' cuts.

Two years ago the employers said they would come with us to Government and ask for more money for the youth service. The local authority employers reneged on this deal half an hour before the meeting because they knew that they were underspending on the funds the Government had given them.

Then the Government gave them more cash. A lot more than the stated figure of 5.9 per cent for 20034 in fact.

So what did the local authorities do with all this extra money? Instead of spending that cash on the Youth Service or on youth workers they squandered it on other things.

Even worse they argued against genuine attempts to introduce into England the kind of statutory provision for the Youth Service that we have achieved in Wales.

After "redirecting" the funds, local authority employers had the audacity to say they couldn't afford any pay increases for the professionals involved.

Worse still, while everyone told them that higher qualifications and more preparation was needed to enable children's and young people's workers to really make a difference, they said let's ensure you only need the equivalent of a few GSCEs to practice as a professional.

Unsurprisingly, the general view was that the employers' attitude on this matter was unacceptable.

Youth and community workers never came into the profession for the money.

But they never came into it to be so criminally exploited either.

No other part of our education system has been so driven into the ground, while encouraging young people to aspire to such educational heights.

If the employers forgot the spin and looked carefully at the needs of their constituents they would agree a good and quick settlement. If they don't local authorities will eventually lose contact with their communities.

CYWU remains willing to meet the genuine employers at any time. But we also plan to dig in for as long as is needed. There'snothing quite like injustice to get youth and community workers organised.

Doug Nicholls is general secretary of the Community and Youth Workers'


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