More than 150 porters, cleaners, switchboard and catering staff employed by Mitie at Cumberland Infirmary are set to begin strike action on Friday (26 February) over missing payments for working unsocial hours.
NHS workers receive enhanced rates – such as time-and-a-half and double time – for working at unsocial times such as weekends or through the night.
But trade union UNISON discovered that the Cumberland Infirmary staff have not received the payments for over ten years, leaving them significantly out of pocket.
Trade unions UNISON and GMB held crunch talks with Mitie and North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust this week in a last-ditch attempt to avoid strike action.
The talks were mediated by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) and took place on Monday 22 and Tuesday 23 February. All parties were agreed that the hospital workers should receive unsocial hours payments but could not agree on who should pay for this, with Mitie and NCIC NHS Trust both claiming that they were not liable to fund the payments.
Both trade unions offered to withdraw their strike action if they received a written guarantee from Mitie that the Infirmary workers would begin to receive unsocial hours payments within the next two months. But in a move that will disappoint hospital workers, patients and local people, Mitie refused to make this commitment in order to avert the strike.
The two trade unions have previously called for an investigation into the whereabouts of a “substantial sum” of money which NCIC NHS Trust claim they have already passed on in order to fund the unsocial hours payments.
But now all attention turns to the strike itself, with UNISON also raising concerns of workers from other areas being drafted in to cover the striking hospital staff.
UNISON North West Regional Organiser David Atkinson said: “It is incredibly disappointing that key workers- who have put their lives at risk to keep us safe during this pandemic- have been forced to take strike action by their intransigent employer Mitie.
“Mitie and NCIC NHS Trust have been given ample opportunities to avoid this strike. Firstly, this issue has rumbled on for a decade without NCIC ever finding out whether the “substantial sum” they claim to have handed over has ever made its way to the Cumberland Infirmary workers it was intended for. Secondly, UNISON raised this issue with Mitie and the Trust last year and gave an extra month’s notice to the employer of the Infirmary workers’ proposed strike action, in order to give the best chance of resolving this issue. Finally, we spent two days earlier this week holding talks with Mitie and NCIC and even offered to withdraw our strike notice but Mitie refused our offer.
“And having refused to prevent the strike, Mitie and the Trust are now planning to undermine it by drafting in agency workers or NHS workers from other parts of the country. During a pandemic, this potentially puts patients and local people at increased risk of contracting coronavirus.
“Having risked their lives for the last year, this committed group of hospital cleaners, caterers, porters and switchboard staff are determined to secure the unsocial hours payments they are rightly owed. It is beyond reprehensible that Mitie- who turned over £574m in the last quarter alone- refuse to settle this dispute. It shows that Mitie management do not care about Cumbrian patients, people or even their own porters- Mitie’s only priority is profit.”
The health workers - all members of trade unions UNISON and GMB – plan to take two 24-hour strikes on Friday 26 February and Monday 1 March to secure the unsocial hours payments.