Social Work Amendment Bill: discussion

Social Development

08 September 1998
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Meeting report

WELFARE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

WELFARE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
9 September 1998
SOCIAL WORK AMENDMENT BILL: DISCUSSION


Documents handed out:
Draft Social Work Amendment Bill (access from http://www.polity.org.za/govdocs/bills/1998/socialwork.html)

The chairperson opened the meeting by explaining the postponement in order that the Minister could attend, which hopefully would speed up the process. He asked for comments on the Bill, but Dr Mbulawa (DP) and Rev Meshoe (ACDP) suggested that the Minister should first give her briefing.

The Minister stated that the 17 submissions received had to be considered. The White Paper had spelt out the new policy promoting developmental social work, the development of human resources and accreditation for all levels of workers in this field. Transformation is needed from the old style Social Work Council and the current Interim Council for Social Work. The new structure should afford leadership within all the allied disciplines to encourage improvement in the quality of the services offered and in the vocational education and training made available. It should promote the integrity and status of the profession. It should protect the public through regulation of practices, accredit members in terms of minimum educational requirements and facilitate their development through continuing education.

The brief to the Interim Council had been to make recommendations within three years. It had made a report on 23 March 1998 with recommendations that it be transformed into an umbrella body with Professional Boards feeding into it, while safeguarding the autonomy of all professions and occupational groups in the field. On 12 August a briefing had been given on the original draft which was still under discussion by the Cabinet at that date. The time-frame had been set and unfortunately procedures would have to be speeded up to adhere to it, otherwise there would be a vacuum with no statutory Council for the profession. The umbrella body could be set up and the Professional Boards slotted in as they became ready.

Ms Gandhi spoke for the ANC study group when she listed concerns from the submissions : - overlooking of the rights of social service users - insufficient representation for social workers - need for protection of the professionalism of social work - financial cost of the proposed structures to social workers in terms of increased fees - imbalance in the power of the Council versus the Boards - lack of a system for the election of Board members to the Council.

They suggested that : - the registered social workers in each province should elect one of their number to Council, plus two from the training institutions, making a total of 11 elected members, all registered social workers. - Boards can be constituted later, when they are ready. At that time the Minister can draw up regulations to cover their election process. Some of the proposed objects of the Boards should at this point be transferred to Section 3 of the Act, governing the objects of the Council, which has the power to delegate authority to the Boards. If the Minister agreed to these suggestions it would enable the Bill to be fast-tracked.

Mr George (NP) concurred with Ms Gandhi's comments and suggestions and said that there should be a smaller proportion of nominated members on the Council. Dr Mbulawa (DP) suggested the legislation governing the medical profession should be taken as a template for the social work profession. Rev Meshoe (ACDP) stated that registered social workers should always be in the majority on the Council.

The Minister reminded the committee that registered social workers were not the only professionals in this field. She would look at the proposal regarding provincial representation, but brought up the problems of the Interim Council's unrepresentivity as a result of elections. Although the chairperson of each Board would serve on the Council there was a need to look again at cross-representation between Council and Boards. The Bill does not spell out the composition of the Boards which would be detailed in regulations. In the medical model the Boards only had authority over training, registering and de-registering. If we do not want one profession to quite overshadow the others we need a neutral forum in the Council. There is a need for human resource development and training in all the occupational groups involved.

Ms Gandhi(ANC) noted that currently social workers have university degrees while the other occupations have two year qualifications or informal training, with consequent lower salaries. She asked how child care workers could be expected to afford the fees necessary to make a Board for themselves autonomous. Even in the medical field there is a sliding scale of fees. She felt that it is too early for Professional Boards in the social services field in this country, and meanwhile sub-committees for specialisations could fill the role, as provided for in the Bill.

Mrs Tambo (ANC) asked if there was any provision for the needs of the elderly in the townships. Ms Turok (ANC) felt that the Bill was very dry and short of "guts". Dr Jassat (ANC) felt that the proposed Council would be toothless in the face of the Professional Boards. Ms Cupido (NP) stated that she was not happy with the Bill which she felt required further consultation and a less pressured time-frame. Dr. Mbulawa (DP) felt provision should be made for specialised social work.

The Minister stated specialisations would be catered for in terms of qualifications and standards. Each speciality would have its own sub-committee which would make recommendations on "best practice" within that speciality. Mrs Tambo said the specialities should be covered in the Bill, not left for future regulations. The Minister pointed out that specialities were covered in Section 17c of the main Act. Accreditation of adoption workers was covered under a separate Bill. She felt strongly that it was unwise to list specific occupations in case some were omitted. It should be left as a blanket provision. Delay in implementing Boards would not impact on the establishment of the Council. The financial provisions would be reconsidered. There was still opportunity for concrete concerns to be brought as soon as possible. A departmental official replied to Ms Tambo that UCT offered a degree in gerontology, but the Wits degree had lapsed for lack of applications.

Mr Saloojee stated that if transformation was to be effected there had to be compromise. If the Bill was postponed to allow for full consultation with all involved, we would be left with no statutory Council next year. Ms Tsheole (ANC) said the Interim Council had been set up with the major object of consulting, which had not been achieved in the time-frame. If the Minister had given an extension of time the new Council would only have been established in 2000 because of the national elections. Ms Gandhi said that currently there was no adequate regulation of the profession and no monitoring of education and training programmes. It was most important to establish a Council quickly in the interests of the community, and the Bill should be fast-tracked. Ms Tambo made a plea for the monitoring of welfare services.

The chairperson announced that the next meeting would formally consider the Bill clause by clause as soon as a date could be set. Meanwhile a working group of party spokesmen and others would meet informally to hammer out a proposal. There was still a short time in which outside bodies could be contacted for input.
PRESENT : ANC - E Saloojee (in the chair), F Bhengu, J Chalmers, M Coetzee- Kasper, B Dlamini, M Duna, E Gandhi, E Jassat, R September, N Shope, A Tambo, N Tsheole, M Turok. NP - P Cupido, C George, I Zerwick. IFP - I Mars. FF - W Botha. DP - B Mbulawa. ACDP - K Meshoe.

APOLOGIES : J Dowry and T Malan.

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