UNION leaders representing Edinburgh social workers say trust has broken down between staff and employers following a collapse of negotiations to reorganise the department.
Unison officials have told Gillian Tee, the city's director of children and families, that staff had lost confidence in her after they were told to apply for their own jobs and offered voluntary redundancy.
The union has launched a collective grievance over the plans, which would affect up to 30 social workers. Union officials said the council had failed to address the issue of increased workloads, and accused managers of giving contradictory information to its members.
Social workers say the organisational review would involve the removal of a whole tier of senior staff, drastically reducing supervision of difficult and dangerous cases.
The city council said it had introduced the staffing review in order to improve the efficiency of the social work department.
However, staff in the South Neighbourhood Children and Families Team wrote to Ms Tee complaining that, by forcing them to apply for their own jobs, management had placed little value on its employees.
Tom Connolly, Unison's shop steward, said management had at first indicated that, although job titles would be changed, existing senior social workers could expect to "slot into" the new team-leader posts.
But staff now say that up to seven positions will go and that this would undermine supervision by long-serving, experienced employees.
In a letter to Ms Tee, he said staff had been asked to consider voluntary severance "without knowing the actual form of the new structure, the protocol for applying for new jobs, or the job descriptions or grades". He added: "Due to the above, staff have lost confidence in the process and with the director. Trust has broken down within the department."
Staff called on the council to explain what impact assessments it had carried out into the likely effects of the staff changes on morale and working effectiveness.
They said the redundancy offer could result in the rapid loss of a large number of experienced staff, further reducing the capacity of the department to cope with child-protection referrals, which they said were on the rise.
Ms Tee said that changes were being implemented as a result of a 2007 report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education, which found that, overall, the needs of Edinburgh children requiring protection were not being met.
She said leadership changes had improved provision of social work for children and families.
She added: "Proposals to reorganise working arrangements would ensure that social workers have appropriate workloads and access to support and supervision from a qualified manager."