Catering staff at Doncaster and Bassetlaw NHS Foundation Trust are the latest to vote for strike action in a growing wave of strikes by privatised contract staff working in NHS trusts.
The Doncaster and Bassetlaw staff were transferred to private company Sodexo in January 2017 – and the company is refusing to pay them more, arguing that the government has chosen not to allocate the extra funding for contractors that it has given to NHS trusts to meet the costs of last year’s increase to the Agenda for Change pay scales.
UNISON argues that the trust governors were assured catering workers would remain on NHS pay scales when they took the decision to privatise the service, and that the company has now gone back on its assurances.
Sodexo cheekily told the BBC it supports “Unison’s position in lobbying the government for central funding and, if successful, we guarantee to pass that funding on to our employees”.
On April 15 hundreds of members of unions GMB, Unison and Unite staged a lunchtime protest to express their anger at the shoddy treatment they have received from ISS, which employs around 600 staff across the Royal Liverpool Hospital, Broadgreen hospital and The Walton Centre in Aintree.
Cleaners, catering staff and porters, all on near the minimum wage, were facing a week without pay after ISS decided to ‘upgrade’ its pay roll systems to move staff on weekly pay onto fortnightly wages – leaving staff affected denied the first week’s wages until after they eventually leave the company.
UNISON North West regional organiser Maria Moss said: “Most ISS workers do not have savings to draw on to tide them over. ISS’s top managers don’t seem to have any understanding of what life is like for the workers they employ on the minimum wage.”
Meanwhile the same ISS staff will also be taking part in a strike ballot over the failure of ISS to pay them the agreed national rates of pay for NHS workers.
They will be encouraged by the recent victory of staff at Liverpool Women’s Hospital where UNISON members employed by OCS took strike action, and as a result are now being paid the full NHS rates, winning a pay rise worth some £2,000 a year for fulltime staff.
The Guardian reports that an estimated 100,000 low-paid cleaners, porters, security guards and catering staff who work for private contractors in hospitals across England are being treated as “secondclass employees”, thanks to a growing pay divide between public and private sector workers.
Last year, as part of a three-year deal negotiated by health unions, the lowestpaid workers in the NHS were given a £2,000 pay rise . But the overwhelming majority of health staff employed on private contracts have not received a penny, according to UNISON.
Currently, UNISON says, many staff employed by private contractors are on the minimum wage, which is £8.21, equating to an annual salary of £16,052, or £1,600 a year less than what the lowest-paid worker in the public sector is paid.