Struggling cleaners at The Harbour threaten strike action over sick pay

Struggling health workers ​employed by a private care company are considering strike action after being denied the same pay and holiday rates as their NHS colleagues – despite doing the same jobs.

By Wes Holmes
Monday, 16th May 2022, 12:30 pm

Some 50 ​employees, including porters, caterers and cleaners, working for healthcare facilities firm OCS at eight different hospitals, mental health units and clinics are taking part in a union-led vote after their demands for equal pay were not met.

The long-running dispute, which involves The Harbour in Blackpool, 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, dates back to 2021.

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Domestic and catering workers employed by OCS at The Harbour, Blackpool are threatenng strike action

At that time, OCS staff were earning less money per hour, and received no extra money for night, weekend or bank holiday shifts, unlike health employees working directly for the NHS.

Ill OCS employees were also given statutory sick pay of less than £96 per week, while NHS staff received full wages. This meant that many OCS workers continued working when unwell because they can’t afford to be off, UNISON said.

Pressure from the public service union led to Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust and OCS agreeing last summer to match NHS pay rates, resulting in a 69p increase to £10.19 an hour for OCS workers.

However, both the care company and the Trust have refused to raise sick pay, annual leave or evening and weekend allowances. They also refused to backdate the wage increase to May 2021, when the workers’ pay complaint was first lodged.

UNISON North West regional organiser Dale Ollier said: “This dispute has never been just about pay. It's about ensuring everyone working in the NHS is treated the same.

“Although OCS workers now earn more an hour, many are still struggling. Backdating the wage increase to last spring would make a real difference to some of the lowest paid workers in Lancashire.

“But more still needs to be done. OCS staff should be paid in full when poorly, receive the same as NHS colleagues for night or weekend work and be allowed to take the same amount of holiday.

“No one wants services to be disrupted. OCS and trust managers need to treat employees doing similar jobs the same, regardless of who they work for."

Similar strike action took place in Blackpool in 2019, when privately contracted cleaners, caterers, porters, receptionists and security workers at Blackpool Victoria Hospital formed a picket line after their employers failed to match NHS pay rates and working conditions.

Mr Ollier said: “Retail, hospitality and online distribution firms are now paying better rates to attract and keep the staff they need. OCS will struggle to hold on to its workers if it continues to treat them so shabbily.

"Failing to resolve the dispute will see staff vacancy rates rise and that will have an impact on patient care.”

The UNISON ballot opened last week, and will remain open until June 7, when votes will be counted.