HOMES for the elderly, juvenile correction institutes and rehabilitation centres were among more than a dozen facilities hit by strike action yesterday as social work assistants launched a campaign for better pay. The Social Welfare Department was forced to redeploy staff to cover for assistants who began a three-day stoppage at midnight on Sunday. Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants' Association officials claimed more than 250 assistants had staged a series of sit-ins at centres across the territory, but the department claimed that half that figure took part. Social work assistants (SWA) branch chairman Lai Wing-shing said the action had been effective so far because normal routines were disrupted. He claimed that girls at Ma Tau Wei Girls' Home had been cooped up in dormitories unable to follow normal timetables because of lack of supervision. But the department claimed its redeployment of staff had maintained services. Ironically, some of the staff used to cover for the protesters were senior welfare workers (SWWs) who are at the centre of the dispute. SWAs want to leapfrog SWWs in the pay scale, claiming to have more qualifications. The department says SWWs are often more experienced. Mr Lai said he would consider further action if his members' demands were not met. ''We will give the department a month to decide on our demands. We do not rule out full-scale strike action,'' he said. Mr Lai said all 251 branch members - there are 437 SWAs in all - took part in the industrial action. He said a letter dated October 22, sent to all members from the Director of Social Welfare, Ian Strachan, warned that industrial action could lead to disciplinary measures under civil service regulations. ''I don't think that is the right way to go about things,'' said Mr Lai. ''I appeal to the department not to adopt such a stance.'' The SWAs pledged to answer emergencies, although no incidents were reported. SWAs want their minimum monthly pay raised from $18,205 to $20,905, above the SWWs minimum rate of $19,965. The protest was called despite the department's decision last Wednesday to set up a task group to review the salary structure. Mr Lai said this was too little too late, and would only seek to stall their claim. Describing the sit-ins as ''regrettable'', Mr Strachan claimed his department had coped adequately. A meeting between the department and the branch is due to take place on Thursday.