Around 50 privately contracted workers at Blackpool Victoria Hospital are taking strike action today (Wednesday, July 31) over their employers’ failure to match NHS pay rates and working conditions.
The 46 members of staff, who all work within Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, are employed by private contractor Compass.
The hospital workers confirmed that they will go ahead with a strike today, after Compass failed to make them an offer to resolve the dispute.
According to trade union Unison, most staff employed by Compass are paid the minimum wage rate of £8.21 an hour, compared with colleagues who are employed directly by the NHS, where the lowest rate is £9.03 an hour.
The union said the difference in pay of 82p an hour is worth up to £1,600 a year for full-time staff.
As well as being paid less than their NHS colleagues, Compass staff said they are also disadvantaged because they do not receive any shift bonuses for working weekends and bank holidays.
In addition, Unison said they receive only statutory sick pay, whereas their NHS colleagues are able to access a 'comprehensive sick pay scheme'.
Jean Johnson, a catering assistant employed by Compass at Blackpool Victoria said: "I work together with colleagues who do exactly the same job, we all work incredibly hard preparing food for patients and yet some are paid a lot more than me. It’s just not right.
"It’s especially bad at the weekends as some colleagues are getting enhancements for working unsociable hours. I’d happily do more overtime but it just seems completely unfair to go in and earn so much less than others.
"I don’t go off sick lightly, but I had an operation and couldn’t go into work for three months. I struggled to pay my bills because I wasn’t receiving full sick pay."
The affected staff at Blackpool Victoria will join Compass employee's at Whiston Hospital and St Helens Hospital in Merseyside in the strike action.
Unison said that Compass did make an offer to staff at Whiston and St Helen's Hospital, which has been unanimously rejected by union members. The company made no offer to hospital workers in Blackpool.
Unison North West regional organiser Pat Woolham said: "In the last week, Compass made a derisory offer in a desperate attempt to avoid today’s strike.
“Unison members met to discuss the offer, unanimously deciding to reject the offer and press on with strike action.
"These brave hospital workers are completely united and will stick together until they receive fair treatment from Compass.
"It’s simply wrong that two people doing the same job within our hospitals are being paid completely different rates- this can’t be allowed to continue any longer.
"Compass made £1.7bn in profit last year alone, we refuse to accept that they can’t afford an 82p pay rise for the lowest paid staff in the NHS.
"We hope that Compass will work with us to solve this issue, but if a reasonable offer is not forthcoming then they can expect further strikes in the near future."
A spokesperson for Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: "The Trust is aware of the planned action by Compass employees and has made arrangements to ensure this will not impact on patients using the hospital.”
Medirest, the healthcare arm of Compass Group, said the company will continue negotiations with Unison to find a resolution to the stand-off.
"People are at the heart of our business and working alongside our clients, we are committed to trying to resolve this issue", said a Medirest spokesman.
"Pay rates are set out in our client contracts and agreed in partnership with our NHS Trust clients.
"On this basis, Medirest has been discussing pay agreements with employees, union representatives and our Trust clients since May, endeavouring to reach a fair settlement.
"While we’re disappointed with UNISON’s decision to take industrial action, our focus is to ensure that we maintain our duty of care and the high standards expected from Medirest and our Trust clients during any strikes.
"We remain open to an ongoing, thorough and constructive dialogue to find a resolution.”
Elsewhere in the North West, Compass staff at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Trust have called off a strike planned for today (Wednesday, July 31) after unanimously accepting an offer from Compass which will see them uplifted to the NHS pay rate.
Picket lines will take place outside Blackpool Victoria Hospital from 7am until 11am.