Staff at St Helens hospitals set to strike today

St Helens Hospital
St Helens Hospital
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Staff working at St Helens hospital are set to strike today over wages and working conditions.

Workers employed by private contractor Compass within St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust are taking strike action today (Wednesday) over their employers’ failure to match NHS pay rates and working conditions, says UNISON.

The hospital cleaners, caterers, porters, receptionists and security workers will hold a rally today at 12.30pm in Henley Park opposite Whiston Hospital.

Most of the 252 hospital workers affected are paid only the minimum wage rate of £8.21 an hour, and 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, the union says.

On top of the lower hourly rate of pay, Compass staff are also disadvantaged by receiving no shift bonuses for working weekends and bank holidays. In addition, 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, Compass met with UNISON to seek to find a resolution to the dispute. The company did make an offer in order to try to prevent today’s strike but it was unanimously rejected by the Whiston and St Helens Hospital workers at meetings which took place over the weekend.

Compass employees working within Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Foundation Trust are also out on strike today.

Commenting on the strike, Jean Johnson, a catering assistant employed by Compass at Whiston Hospital 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.”

Denise Williams is branch chair of St Helens and Knowsley Health UNISON. She said: “I am right behind my colleagues who have been forced into taking the difficult decision to strike today.

“Our cleaners, caterers, porters, reception and security staff make a huge contribution to the NHS and played a big part in helping the trust secure its recent outstanding CQC report.

“This contribution needs to be recognised – it’s completely wrong that some of my colleagues are treated as second-class employees and the time has come for Compass to put an end to this two-tier workforce.”

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 Medirest 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.”