Hospital workers in St Helens and Knowsley go on strike

St Helens Hospital
St Helens Hospital

Staff working at St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust are beginning two days of strike action today in a row over pay and conditions.

Workers employed by private contractor Compass - which includes cleaners, caterers, porters, receptionists and security workers - will hold a rally to highlight their situation at 12.30pm tomorrow at the ex-services club in Rainhil.

Along with staff based at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, they are taking action as they claim their employer fails to match NHS pay rates and working conditions.

Most of the 300 hospital workers affected 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, union Unison says.

Compass staff receive no shift bonuses for working weekends and bank holidays and they receive only statutory sick pay, whereas their NHS colleagues are able to access a comprehensive sick pay scheme.

Since the hospital staff announced their plans to strike, Unison has met with Compass to seek a resolution to the dispute. An offer made by the company to St Helens and Whiston Hospital workers to prevent today’s strike was overwhelmingly rejected. There was no offer for the striking cleaners at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.

This follows a one-day strike on July 31. A planned strike at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Foundation Trust was called off after the trust – rather than the company – agreed to fund pay parity with NHS colleagues.

Mandy Duckworth, a Compass-employed domestic worker at St Helens Hospital, said: “It's completely unfair that we're stuck on minimum wage when we work alongside colleagues who earn much more than us. We’re treated like we’re two-a-penny.

“They also have better enhancements for unsociable hours, get more annual leave and have a proper sick pay scheme. The way we’re treated makes it feel like workers with NHS contracts are more important than us.

“I had a car crash last year. I had to take a week off work without pay and then was forced to go back to work against the doctor’s advice. I really struggled to go back to work so soon due to serious back pain, but I just couldn’t afford to be off any longer.

“The pay rise would make a big difference to my family. My partner and I both work for Compass – he works a lot of evenings and weekends but barely gets any more than the basic rate of pay for it. We’re treated like second-class workers.”

Unison North West regional organiser Lisa Oxbury said: “In the past few weeks, Compass has thrown together an offer for its St Helens and Whiston employees in a desperate attempt to avoid today’s strike.

“These workers have been substantially underpaid for almost 18 months and yet the backpay from Compass is a paltry £80 in most cases. This is an insult, not an olive branch.

“Compass views its contract with St Helens and Knowsley NHS Trust as its national flagship, but our members are struggling to stay afloat.

“Compass boss Dominic Blakemore was paid an eye-watering £4.6 million last year. The company’s profits doubled to £1.7bn. They could settle this dispute with the click of a finger if they wanted and yet they've not offered a penny to their cleaners in Blackpool.

“Compass still doesn’t seem to understand why staff are on strike. These dedicated NHS workers simply want to be part of the health service team, with fair pay and treatment.

“Our cleaners, caterers, porters, reception and security staff make a huge contribution to the NHS and played a big part in helping St Helens and Knowsley NHS Trust secure its recent outstanding CQC report. They deserve the NHS rate for the job, enhancements for unsociable hours and a health service sick pay scheme.”