Staff employed by private contractor Engie Services Ltd within Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust have unanimously voted to take industrial action over their employer’s failure to pay NHS rates.
They work for the multinational outsourcing company as security guards and some are paid only the minimum wage rate of £8.72 an hour, or lower for under-25s.
The lowest rate for security staff employed directly by the NHS is £9.89 per hour. Taking into account overtime payments, most of the Tameside security staff are between £2,000 and £3,000 worse off per year, with one worker almost £6,000 out of pocket.
Even security guards paid more than the minimum wage earn less than NHS pay rates and have worse working conditions than other staff they work alongside within the Trust.
The security guards launched an online petition earlier this week and have received supportive comments from their colleagues- one hospital worker said: “The security staff deserve more and they are totally unappreciated. We work very closely with the security guards and rely on their help. Give them the pay they so rightly deserve!”
Whilst another Tameside Hospital worker added: “They do a great job of making the whole site of Tameside Hospital a safe and secure environment for all staff and patients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They deserve recognition and reward.”
UNISON has been trying to resolve this issue for over six months, but after Engie told staff they would not pay staff NHS rates in February, the union’s security guard members at Tameside General Hospital were asked whether they wished to go on strike over the issue. The result was that 100% of respondents voted to take industrial action.
Since then, Engie agreed to up the rate of pay, but the pay increase would only be implemented in October 2020 and would be introduced alongside changes to shift patterns which security guards believe would be detrimental to the service and to the staff themselves.
UNISON North West regional organiser Sue Glithero said: “Security staff put themselves in danger every day to keep patients and staff safe. ONS figures show that male security guards have the highest risk of dying as a result of COVID-19.
“This hidden workforce is being treated as second-class citizens – working within hospitals at great personal risk but not being considered part of the NHS. It’s time for this to end.
“We have been trying to resolve this issue since before Christmas. Engie finally agreed to up the pay rates once this determined group of staff voted unanimously to take industrial action. But Engie only plan to implement the pay increase in October, almost a year after the security guards’ pay claim was submitted.
“And now Engie have attempted to offset the pay increase by making changes to shift patterns, which will cause problems for patients, Tameside hospital staff and Engie security workers.
“Last year, a group of security staff in Salford- also employed by Engie – won their dispute for NHS pay rates the day before they were due to go on strike. We hope that Engie do the right thing before Tameside hospital security staff are forced to take strike action.”
A hospital security guard at Tameside General Hospital, who preferred to be unnamed said: “We do challenging work and often have to put ourselves into dangerous situations, especially at the moment. We feel really undervalued.
“We really didn’t want to have to take this action. We postponed our strike because of the pandemic. We want to be there protecting our colleagues at the hospital- but this has gone on long enough. We deserve the NHS rates for the job, without cuts to our hours which would see us lose out.”
The hospital security staff will strike for 48 hours beginning at 7am on Monday 13 July if their dispute is not settled within the next three weeks.