Cleaners at Blackpool Victoria Hospital took to the streets today in protest of 'unfair' pay rates and holiday shift bonuses.
Staff employed by private contractor Compass formed a picket line outside the hospital on Whinney Heys Road this morning.
Other cleaners, caterers, porters, receptionists and security guards employed by the company in the St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust are also taking strike action today over their employers’ failure to match NHS pay rates and working conditions, said UNISON, the public services union.
Most of the 252 workers, including 46 Blackpool Vic employees, are paid the minimum wage rate of £8.21 an hour, yet work alongside colleagues who are employed directly by the NHS, where the lowest rate is £9.03 an hour.
This difference of 82p an hour is worth £1,600 a year for full-time staff.
Michelle Tymon, from South Shore, who is a domestic assistant at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and a UNISON steward, said: “These guys are on minimum wage and they are doing the same jobs with the same training and the same skills. We should all be treated the same and paid the same.
“It has created a lot of animosity in the workplace. There’s a clear divide between staff. It’s frustrating when you’re doing the same job and the person next door is getting paid twice as much.
“The staff are deflated. They don’t feel valued by the company.
“They company is £1.7b in profit, and yet they are saying they can’t afford to pay their staff.
“I feel disgusted in the company that they can happily let this happen. It’s them that have caused this animosity and it doesn’t need to be there.
“These guys work just as hard as we do, but some of them have to work two or three jobs to earn what we earn.
“We always take strike action as a last resort. We have tried negotiating with the company but they don’t seem to want to offer us anything at the moment. But we’re open to further negotiation.”
UNISON said on top of the lower hourly rate of pay, Compass staff receive unequal shift bonuses for working weekends and bank holidays, and receive only statutory sick pay while their NHS colleagues are able to access a comprehensive sick pay scheme.
They said the company made an offer to Whiston and St Helens Hospital workers, which was unanimously rejected at meetings which took place over the weekend - but that no offer had been made to the cleaners in Blackpool.
A further planned strike at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Foundation Trust was called off after UNISON said the trust, rather than the contractor, agreed to fund the pay parity with NHS colleagues.
Joanne Thomson, a domestic assistant employed by Compass at the Vic, said: “I am paid hundreds of pounds less every month than some of my colleagues who do exactly the same job as me. It’s just not fair.
“I have a 12-year-old daughter to look after and at the moment I have to work twenty hours of overtime every week just to get by.
“It’s hard supporting a family on my own and if Compass agreed to pay us that extra 80p an hour, it would make a big difference.”
Another cleaner, who did not want to be named, said: “I meant to have an operation on my hand, but I can’t go off work because I’ve got a family to feed. That’s the main reason I’m out here today. I can’t even afford to get my hand fixed.
“I think Compass is being a bit naughty about it. It will only cost them £11,500 a year to give us all a pay rise, which is nothing compared to what they have got in profit.”
Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden met the cleaners to talk about their strike plans on Friday
Mr Marsden said: “For people like Joanne, who juggles work with looking after her family, she and her colleagues have been treated very unfairly by Compass. Last year they made profits of over £1b - they can certainly afford to bring the pay and conditions of their staff in line with the trust’s own cleaners.
“I will be writing to their management to express my disappointment at the situation and urge them to get their act together. We need this situation, especially over the hot summer months, to be resolved urgently. At weekends Joanne and her colleagues are paid 50p an hour extra. This is in comparison to the NHS staff who are paid time and a half on a Saturday and double on Sunday.
“This is not acceptable and isn’t good for the morale at the Vic – and the 100 per cent mandate for strike action is no surprise.”
"It's simply wrong that two people doing the same job... are being paid completely different rates"
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.”
She added: “The strikers have been really strong. We walked them out at midnight on the night shift. We have had support from local councillors and MP Gordon Marsden, and members of staff themselves have come out and supported us where they can.
“Staff feel demoralised. They have worked here for years and they do the same jobs on different rates of pay. It’s not good. Even the ones who are getting the higher rates are not happy about it.
“We have had three meetings with Compass and in three meetings they have not said anything except they can’t afford to pay. They have not demonstrated why they can’t afford it. We have now requested their finances formally and we will see where that takes us.
“Our members want to keep striking and there will be more action in August, and that will continue until we get some sort of action (from Compass).”
Company 'are committed to trying to resolve this issue'
A spokesman for Medirest, part of the Compass Group, said: “People are at the heart of our business and working alongside our clients, we are committed to trying to resolve this issue. 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.”