Cleaners strike over 'insulting' sick pay at The Harbour

Members of staff at The Harbour mental hospital in Blackpool have formed a picket line today in a ‘last resort’ protest against unequal pay.

Cleaners, porters and caterers employed by private contractor OCS began the 72-hour strike this morning after bosses refused their demands for the same sick pay and annual leave as the NHS staff they work alongside.

The strike, which is due to continue until Friday, involves 50 workers at eight different NHS sites across Lancashire, including The Harbour, Guild Lodge in Preston, Wesham rehabilitation unit, Royal Blackburn Hospital, the Daisyfield Mill Clinic and the Mount Clinic in Accrington, Ormskirk District General Hospital, and Balladen House in Rossendale.

Joanne Thompson, who has worked as a cleaner at The Harbour for two years, said: “We feel like we’re not part of the team. We don’t get anything extra for bank holidays and weekends – but the main issue is the sick pay. It’s an insult. We’re forced to come into work poorly, which we shouldn’t have to do, but because we get so little sick pay we have to do it. It’s a complete insult to all out here today.

"Two years ago when the pandemic hit, all we got was a thank you and a two-finger biscuit.”

Following talks with union UNISON earlier this year, OCS agreed to increase their staff’s hourly pay rates to £10.19 per hour, bringing them into line with staff employed directly by the NHS.

But OCS workers still do not receive extra money for night, weekend or bank holiday shifts that colleagues employed directly by the NHS receive. They are given the statutory sick pay of less than £100 a week, while NHS employees working the same jobs are able to take full pay.

Staff on strike at The Harbour today, June 29

UNISON North West regional organiser Dale Ollier said: “Strikes are always a last resort, but workers have no other ways to make themselves heard. They deserve to be treated and paid the same as those working for the NHS

“OCS workers do the same jobs as many NHS colleagues, but they miss out on sick pay when they’re ill, are paid less when they work unsocial hours or weekends and are given fewer days off.

“Other firms are becoming far more attractive than remaining in the healthcare sector, so many will leave unless the situation improves.”

He added: “It’s undignified to have people working in these conditions in our hospitals. These workers are the people who have kept our hospitals open and clean during the height of the pandemic while many of us were working from home.

"They are working alongside people who are getting better pay, while they continue to be denied basic conditions.

"These are the workers out country clapped for all last year and when they get poorly they are in a difficult position about whether they can afford to take time off work. They shouldn’t be put in that position.

"This is compounded by the cost of living crisis that we are all going through.

"If OCS wants to keep its workers in our hospitals, they need to invest in their staff and treat them right.”

OCS was approached for comment.