A guest blog post by Amy Ross of the Social Workers Action Network (SWAN).
Some of you may be aware that a new Social Workers Registration Bill was tabled in the House on the 9th August 2017. This bill aims to move registration from voluntary to mandatory.
Why is this a call to action? Many organisations have been calling for increased recognition and professionalism for years. Indeed the intent was always to move to mandatory at some point. However it turns out that not all forms of registration are equal. The bill, in its current form, represents a major assault on social work and social workers and embeds long standing misunderstanding of and disrespect for social work as a unique and skilled profession.
The core concern in the bill is how social work is defined. Unlike other professions under the Health Practitioners Competency Assurance Act whose profession is defined by a scope of practice the proposal for social work is that the employer essentially defines who is and who is not a social worker.
This will mean that for areas where there are various occupations that are closely related to social work, it will be for employers (or contracting agencies) to make the call as to whether they will require employees to hold the title “social worker”…. The implementation phase should support employers to make good decisions about whether and where they require a “social worker” 
For example your employer could decide to keep your job identical but remove the word social work from your title and job description and, like magic, you would not be a social worker. Sure you will be using all your skills, experience and knowledge from social work but that will not count under the new bill.
In the Cabinet Paper it is made clear that allowing more flexibility about who is and is not a social worker is indeed the intent:
A key advantage of the proposed reform is that it does not conflict with existing policy settings designed to enable multidisciplinary practice in the health and social services sectors. These policies allow for the chief executive of the Minister for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki to delegate social work functions to non-social workers under certain circumstances. 
No other profession anywhere in the world has been faced with such an arbitrary and ineffectual protection of title and role. Indeed it gives the impression that social work is so opaque as to be essentially meaningless as a profession. This is emphasised in the Cabinet Paper with the following statement:
…the boundaries of what is and is not social work are not distinct from many other social service and health sector occupations, so it would be impossible to define social work without affecting a wide range of related occupations, which undertake similar tasks and require similar skills. 
There are a huge range of implication were this bill to progress as is. Key points to consider are:
- Equal Pay for social workers is currently being negotiated. When we get this in place we are faced with an environment which incentivises employers to employ someone without using the title social worker. Why would they persevere with a social worker when they can hire someone to do the same work without the title and thus avoid the pay rate social workers will attract?
- Further obfuscation and erasure of social work as a profession. We refute utterly that social work is not unique enough to be defined and recognised in its own right. We have established international definitions to guide us. Being clear about who and what we are is important for us and for the communities we work with.
- Having “social work tasks” delegated more to non-social workers, as the bill endorses and embeds the idea that social work is “fuzzy” by nature and has no specific purpose. We strongly believe this will lead to social work roles disappearing.
There are other issues with the bill, particularly in reference to the impact on the NGO sector. For example the Cabinet Paper makes it clear that the cost of registration will be borne by individuals “but ultimately flow to their employers”.  Employers will not be funded for this as a part of a contract and will have to attempt to negotiate it if they wish to have any of it covered. For any of you in the NGO sector you no doubt know how tight resources are already, and that organisations are often at the whim of whatever the Government offers. Negotiating for more is not really a position many are in. It is clear increased funding is not high on the Government agenda when it is actually recommended as a potential solution to the increased cost implications of registration sector that NGOS “consider whether to amalgamate with other NGOs”. 
We will be providing you with more information on this as the bill progresses, and have already forged links with the wider sector who are also really concerned about this. We will be submitting to the select committee process and will be mobilising any of you who are keen to also submit and/or support other submitters.
If you are not signed up to SWAN please do so now: we need you so we can be mobile and active on this and other issues facing social work. You can do this by phoning the organising centre on 0508367772 or by going into your MYPSA account and ticking the join SWAN box.
Please feel free to get in touch with any questions/ideas.
 A scope of practice is a document written by and agreed with the profession that defines the work undertaken by its members, where and how they work and the principles/ethics that underpin the profession. See for example the Occupational Therapists Scope of Practice.
 Paragraph 33 Cabinet paper
 Paragraph 123 Cabinet paper