Frontline health workers vote ‘yes’ to strike action at sites across Lancashire

OCS workers want to be treated like colleagues directly employed by NHS

Health workers employed by private company OCS at Lancashire & South Cumbria NHS Trust have voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking strike action, says UNISON today (Friday).

The 50 staff, including porters, caterers and cleaners, work for the healthcare facilities firm at eight NHS sites across Lancashire. They are asking for the same sick pay and annual holiday as staff directly employed by the NHS.

The workers are employed at hospitals, mental health units and clinics in Blackburn, Blackpool, Ormskirk and Preston and are expected to strike for 72 hours from Wednesday 29 June to Friday 1 July.

Until April this year, OCS staff were paid less per hour than NHS colleagues doing the same jobs. Pressure from UNISON led to the trust and OCS agreeing last summer to match NHS pay rates. This meant a 69p increase to £10.19 an hour for the workers.

But, unlike employees working directly for the NHS, OCS workers get no extra money for night, weekend or bank holiday shifts.

If OCS employees fall ill, they get only statutory sick pay of less than £100 a week. This means many are forced to keep working when unwell because they can’t afford to be off, potentially putting patients at risk, says UNISON.

Colleagues employed by the NHS receive their full wages when ill. But both the employer and trust have refused to raise sick pay, annual leave or evening/weekend allowances. They also won’t agree to backdate the wage increase to May 2021, which is when the workers’ pay complaint was first lodged.

One OCS employee said: “Many visitors and patients are not aware we work for a private firm and are living hand to mouth because of low pay. We all work for the NHS and OCS staff should not be treated differently from everyone else.”

Another said: “The hospital couldn’t function without the work done by OCS staff. Prices are soaring and everyone is struggling to pay their bills. We are key workers and should be paid fairly.”

UNISON North West regional organiser Dale Ollier said: “OCS staff should be paid in full when poorly, receive the same as NHS colleagues for night or weekend work and be allowed to take the same amount of holiday.

“No one wants services to be disrupted but OCS and trust bosses have been ignoring these workers for more than a year. Employees doing similar jobs should be treated the same, regardless of who they work for.

“Retail, hospitality and online distribution firms are now paying better rates to attract and keep the staff they need. OCS will struggle to hold on to its staff if it continues to treat them so shabbily.

“The healthcare sector is already struggling to fill vacancies. Failing to resolve this dispute will see staff vacancy rates rise and that will have an impact on patient care.”

Notes to editors:
– Sites affected are the Royal Blackburn Hospital, Daisyfield Mill Clinic and the Mount Clinic in Accrington, the Harbour and Wesham Rehabilitation Units in Blackpool, Preston’s Guild Park Hospital, Ormskirk and District General Hospital and Balladen House in Rossendale.
– The workers voted 92.3% in favour of strike action.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.