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Date: Fri 13 July 2007

Mental Health Officers action may bring Highland Tribunals to a standstill

Mental Health Officers (MHOs) working for Highland Council plan to take action from 17th July 2007 in a longstanding dispute over responsibility payments.

UNISON, the union for the majority of the MHOs in Highland says that the issues about the unsatisfactory pay for these specialist mental health social workers, and coverage of emergency rotas have been outstanding for twelve years.

The action will involve social workers who are also MHOs ceasing to carry out MHO duties and MHOs ceasing all overtime. This will eventually mean that Mental Health Tribunals will cease to function.

Mental Health Officers are social workers who have undergone specific training in psychiatry. They take additional qualifications and have particular responsibilities under the Mental Health Legislation.

Munro Ross, UNISON's Highland Convenor said "For years now Highland Council have consistently failed to address the need of this highly dedicated and specialised group of workers. Since the introduction of the new Mental Health Act they have had a range of additional duties and responsibilities with little or no acknowledgement from the council about their enhanced role."

The union points out that MHOs in neighbouring authorities are paid more for this responsibility. They also want recognition of the almost permanent 'on-call' cover many have to provide in remote areas - as other Highland council staff receive.

Tommy Campbell, T & G Organiser said "This dispute has been forced on staff by the consistent under-funding of mental health services in Highland for years. Poor rates of pay, in many cases the lack of any payment whatsoever, has a significant impact on recruitment and retention of MHOs here. This increasingly affects the ability of psychiatric services in the Highlands to deliver an acceptable standard of care. Our members don't want to damage support for mental health patients, their carers and the wider community by industrial action, but more harm will be done to psychiatric services in the Highlands if we don't challenge local authority under-funding. Many colleagues have been on almost permanent call in the outlying areas of Highland with no availability or standby payment or recognition of this fact, and they are deeply frustrated by management's inability to resolve this issue despite many requests over the years."


Notes for Editors: There are 37 members in the group taking action. While most are members of UNISON, some are members of the T&GWU who are also taking this action

For Further Information Please Contact: Munro Ross (Highland Branch Convenor and Secretary of Highland Council Joint Trade Unions) 07802 422 243 (m) Tommy Campbell (T&G Organiser) 07810 157 920(m)