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Napo, the family court union, has reached an agreement with Cafcass management to avert the balloting of its members on taking direct action.
The two parties have drafted a joint statement on workloads which Napo hope will pave the way for meaningful engagement between managers and its members in the face of an unprecedented crisis as a consequence of soaring workloads and low morale.
However, a senior Napo source told Newswatch that the union is reserving its position on direct action depending on how the measures in the statement are implemented.
An extra £1.6 million has been given to Cafcass to cope with the backlog of cases.
In a parliamentary briefing paper published on Monday, Napo claimed that the number of care applications has risen by 70% since November 2008 and average caseloads of Cafcass practitioners have grown from 12 to 20.
Commenting on the parliamentary briefing paper, Harry Fletcher, Assistant General Secretary of Napo, said: "Staff are being subjected to unprecedented pressure and bullying. They are subjected to Ofsted inspections, Quality Improvement Reviews, Action Plans, Performance Improvement Notices and Performance and Conduct Procedures. Care applications and other work has soared since Baby Peter in November 2008, but management's response to the workload is to cajole, bully and intimidate staff into accepting the unacceptable".
He added: "Morale is rock bottom. Stress levels are very high. The situation is not sustainable. Child protection matters are suffering because of delay in processing work, the preoccupation of Cafcass managers with targets and monitoring and excessive paperwork and inspections. If workload issues are not resolved imminently Napo will move to a ballot for industrial action".
However in the draft joint statement, seen by Newswatch, the parties have now agreed that: "Management recognises that many staff are working over their contracted hours, more so in times of acute pressure. Management and unions agree they will work closely to ensure the health and well being of staff is kept in the forefront of managerial consideration when allocating work. Staff care should not be compromised and over a four week period no-one should be expected to work more than an average of their contracted hours per week.
"The allocation and maintenance of reasonable workloads must be based on a collaborative dialogue between the line manager and the individual practitioner. Through supervision, the line manager will be able to obtain an understanding of the practitioner's capacity, existing workload and any other service obligations. They will also take into account personal, health and work/life balance circumstances," the joint statement said.
The parties have also sets out how Cafcass staff will be required to work flexibly: "Cafcass requires that all incoming work receives a response and workload management needs to ensure the use of time is targeted to enable this to happen within a context of good staff care."
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