Action by SWAN Hong Kong supporters against property developer

From South China Morning Post – 7th June 2011

‘Job offer gets bulldozed by social workers

Developer’s ad for counsellor to meet residents forced out of homes has led to petition on Facebook and fears applicants could breach code of conduct

Ada Lee

Jun 07, 2011

A controversial property developer has advertised for a social worker to counsel residents forced to make way for redevelopment projects – provoking a backlash by hundreds of social workers.

Richfield Realty, which is often criticised for being heavy-handed in acquiring old buildings from reluctant residents, took out the job ad last week. Besides providing counselling to the people displaced by the developer, the job apparently entailed keeping records of meetings with residents and handing the reports to the company.

Many social workers said the job description “twisted the meaning of social work” and promised to launch a series of campaigns against the company.

Peter Cheung Kwok-che, a social welfare lawmaker and president of the Hong Kong Social Workers General Union, said the job appeared to violate their professional code of practice.

“Would Richfield tolerate the social workers it hired to help the residents it’s trying to displace against the company’s interest?” he said. “There are some fundamental conflicts between working as a social worker and working for Richfield.

“We will not tell our fellows not to apply for a certain job, but they have to be careful if they apply for this one.”

The union will protest at the developer’s headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui today.

Richfield has been active in Tai Kok Tsui, Quarry Bay, Mid-Levels and Ho Man Tin.

According to the code of practice for registered social workers, the primary responsibility of a social worker is to his clients.

The code also states that if a social worker finds his employer’s policies are jeopardising the interest of his clients, he should inform his managers.

Cheung said: “The code demonstrates to a large extent the value of social work. If a social worker is to work for Richfield, he’s walking a tightrope.”

A social worker found to have violated the code faces penalties ranging from a warning to being struck off by the Social Workers Registration Board.

By last night, more than 670 social workers had signed a petition on Facebook in protest at the Richfield job offer.

Lam Chi-leung, an organiser of the petition, said it would be inappropriate for social workers to work for the company.

“Social workers should stand on the side of the weak. They shouldn’t work for those who are damaging fairness in the city.”

Lam said the group would urge other social workers not to apply for the job by publishing an open letter in newspapers in the coming two weeks.

Meanwhile, there is another petition on Facebook calling for social workers to send “application letters” to the developer telling them why they would not work for it.

About 100 social workers had joined that group by last night.

Richfield Realty could not be reached for comment.

ada.lee@scmp.com’

Call for proposals – SWAN conference 2012

We would particularly welcome contributions that consider: “Whatever happened to anti-racist social work?”, Transgendered issues in social work and social care, building alliances for resistance, social work and social movements, social work and women’s oppression – and any other relevant social work or social care issue.

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For

A (Royal) College: is more professionalism the answer to the crisis of social work?

At the launch speakers from BASW and the GSCC praised the Task Force group and the ‘excellent report’. The atmosphere was one of ‘uniting together’ to push the profession forward. Indeed when I asked three questions about the implications of the report for frontline workers I was loudly ‘tutted’ for even raising such questions!

One obvious question we should ask is: Where’s the cash? The recommendations that seem most attractive will require significant amounts of funding. But as both main parties claim that we are now entering a period of welfare retrenchment – how will this be paid for?

The recommendation that has seemingly gained most support is for the creation of a College of Social Work (or even a Royal College of Social Work). But the College proposal raises some awkward issues. When workers have contacted SWAN over the last few years the key issues they identify are:

1. The impact of managerialism on the job of frontline workers – the control of the work process, the embodiment of that control within IT systems, the lack of time to build relationships with clients/service users, budgetary restrictions, excessive case-loads, etc

2. The impact of marketisation on service delivery – the ways in which social workers – who come in to the profession with a vision of meeting people’s needs – find themselves forced to ‘ration care’; the ways that marketising pressures have undermined the quality of services and the working conditions of those who work in the (increasingly privatised) care sector, etc.

How exactly will a Royal College solve these problems?

The College is put forward as offering a single voice for Social Work. This, it is claimed, will allow us to gain visibility for all the good work we do. But the obvious question is ‘Whose voice will it represent?’ The frontline worker or the Director of Social Services? Will the voice of frontline workers and Directors be the same? Are those who promote marketisation of care and managerialism have the same interests as those frontline workers who are often appalled at the impact of marketisation of services on those that we work with?

When frontline workers find themselves under attack it is usually from their employing agencies – wanting to change their working conditions, their pay rates – or even their right to speak out about local events that affect social work clients. (It is only occasionally that social workers come under attack from the media, though, of course, such attacks do have a high profile, and do have an impact on the profession.) When such attacks happen, social workers are best served by uniting with their colleagues – and other workers – within their unions. Yet where does the College proposal leave Unison and social work trade unionism?

The College idea seems attractive. It seems to be tied to a promise of better pay and career pathways; it seems to offer protection; it seems to bring about recognition and bring social workers into line with doctors, nurses and others within the caring professions. But the suggestion that the solution to the crisis of social work is rooted in a more sharply defined professionalism – one that brings with it more distinction and distance from other welfare workers and service users – is an argument that is deeply problematic.