About SWU

Social Workers Union Conference & AGM 2018. 21 September 2018.

Our History

On 21st June 2011 the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) resolved to establish a trade union which was to be called the Social Workers Union (SWU). At that time BASW was becoming increasingly aware that they were being prevented from providing representation to members at employment hearings because the only organisation employers were legally obliged to recognise were certified trade unions. SWU was therefore created to ensure continuing employment representation for members.

SWU’s first General Secretary Hilton Dawson said of the founding of the union, “SWU was registered as a trade union in 2011, open to all social workers and to BASW members who ‘opted in.’ The legal drafts for the Regulator referred to ‘the Social Workers Union’ and for simplicity, that’s how SWU was named. As a registered trade union, our Advice & Representation Officers now had a right to attend all disciplinary meetings alongside members. Our service to members continued to be excellent. Boldly and bravely that’s how BASW laid the foundations for the Social Workers Union to thrive.” SWU’s Honorary Treasurer and Northern Ireland Representative Gerry Madden reflected during this SWU 10th Anniversary Celebration [link to SWU webpage: SWU’s 10th Anniversary], “Looking back, the decision to create the Social Workers Union was an instinctive reaction to protect our members. The availability of Advice and Representations continues, in my opinion, to be the primary motivator as to why people join BASW/SWU.

“I think that the establishment of SWU could be seen as a symbol of hope for social workers in the best historical tradition of trade union activity. In other words, as something which would both protect and further the rights and interests of social workers. I don’t think it’s too fanciful therefore to say that the creation of SWU was a moment of real historical significance in providing hope for social work and social workers.”

SWU’s first General Secretary Hilton Dawson


SWU and BASW strive to promote a unified social work profession through a Professional Body (BASW) with guaranteed employment representation from a Trade Union (SWU).

Read more about how SWU and BASW work together here.

SWU – Our History (2011-2021) booklet

SWU History booklet image

Our History

We are pleased to share the official SWU history booklet which covers the first decade of the trade union’s history. A copy of this booklet was e-mailed to all SWU members in celebration of our tenth anniversary on June 21, 2021. You can also download the PDF here: SWU – Our History (2011-2021)

Key SWU history dates include:


  • 21 June 2011 – The BASW Council resolved to establish a trade union which was to be called “The Social Workers Union” and to adopt rules for such trade union.
  • 15 July 2011 – SWU was added to the list of Trade Unions as part of the trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.
  • 18 October 2011 – SWU gained certificate of independence from the UK Certification Officer for Trade Unions.
  • SWU launched Operation Speak Out that highlighted examples of inadequate employer support.


  • SWU has over 5,000 members.


  • SWU became a member of the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU).


  • SWU’s first (independent from BASW) General Secretary elected.
  • SWU joined BASW and others to explore the establishment of a Standing Conference for Social Work.


  • SWU has over 10,000 members.
  • BASW and SWU launched Respect for Social Work campaign for professional working conditions.
  • BASW and SWU launched the Boot Out Austerity campaign and published the anti-austerity Campaign Action Pack.
  • SWU began annual World Social Work Day SWU Assignment student essay competition.


  • SWU members can now become Union Contacts.
  • 13 March 2018 – SWU and BASW signed formal co-operation agreement.
  • SWU links with Bath Spa University and BASW to create survey into the UKs largest report on Social Work Working Conditions.
  • SWU and BASW “working conditions” research was debated May 2018 in the House of Lords.


  • SWU began funding the Austerity Action Group (AAG).


  • SWU published Social Work’s Six-Point Urgent Action Plan.
  • BASW, SWU, and Bath Spa University published the Social Worker Wellbeing and Working Conditions: Good Practice Toolkit.
  • The SWU Executive Committee appointed the first SWU Ambassadors.


  • SWU launched the Talk to SWU workplace issues webinar series that is free to attend for all UK social workers and social work students.
  • SWU joined the Future Social Care Coalition (FSCC).
  • SWU and Bath Spa University began ground-breaking new research on reflective supervision best practices.
  • 10 June 2021 – SWU and BASW signed an updated version of the formal co-operation agreement which reaffirmed the commitment of our organisations to advance together in our shared goals.
  • 21 June 2021 – SWU celebrated its 10th Anniversary.
  • SWU has over 15,000 members.
  • SWU and the Scottish Association of Social Workers (SASW) are members of the first ever Cross-Party Group on Social Work.
  • SWU created the SWU Campaign Fund in partnership with Campaign Collective to support member-led activism through 2021-2022.


  • SWU launches its new website.