Outsourced NHS staff in Blackpool and St Helens strike over pay and conditions   

Compass employees demand pay parity, while staff in Liverpool celebrate their own victory

Staff employed by the private contractor Compass who work at Blackpool NHS Teaching Hospitals, St Helens Hospital and Whiston Hospital are striking today (Wednesday). The move is in protest at their employer’s failure to match NHS pay rates and working conditions, says UNISON.

Hospital cleaners, caterers, porters, receptionists and security workers are among almost 300 employees affected. Most of the outsourced Compass staff involved are only paid the minimum wage rate of £8.21 an hour, yet they work alongside NHS staff in the same role who are paid £9.03 an hour – the NHS’s lowest pay scale. This difference of 82p an hour is worth £1,600 a year for full-time staff, UNISON says.

Compass staff working at St Helens and Whiston hospitals are further disadvantaged as they don’t receive any shift bonuses for working weekends or bank holidays. Their NHS colleagues, in the same roles, receive time-and-a-half on Saturdays and double pay on Sundays and bank holidays. Outsourced staff in Blackpool Teaching Hospital receive a paltry 50p an hour extra for weekend or bank holiday shifts.

In addition, Compass employees receive only statutory sick pay, whereas their NHS colleagues are able to access a comprehensive sick pay scheme.

A further planned strike at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Foundation Trust was called off yesterday evening after the trust – rather than the company – agreed to fund the pay parity with NHS colleagues.

UNISON’s general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Compass made £1.7bn in profit last year alone, so we refuse to accept its claim that it can’t afford an 82p pay rise for its lowest paid NHS staff.

“Strike action is always a last resort, but we can’t stand by while outsourced and in-house staff are paid completely different rates for the same role. Cleaners, caterers, porters, receptionists and security staff play a vital role in the NHS, and their contribution must be recognised.”

UNISON North West regional organiser Maria Moss said of the Liverpool deal: “This agreement is excellent news for Compass staff at Liverpool Heart and Chest. They make a huge contribution to the health service and they will now receive the NHS rate for the job.

“Their determination and unity has delivered results. We now hope their colleagues in St Helens and Blackpool are fairly treated by Compass.”

Jean Johnson, a catering assistant employed by Compass at Whiston Hospital, said: “I work 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.”

Click here to send a message of support to the strikers

Notes to editors:
– Since the hospital staff announced their plans to strike, Compass met with UNISON to seek to find a resolution to the dispute. Compass bosses did make an offer to their St Helens hospital workers, in order to try to prevent today’s strike but it was unanimously rejected at union meetings which took place over the weekend. The company made no offer to hospital workers at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals.
– Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Foundation Trust agreed to the funding to ensure pay parity, including all enhancements. This will be back paid from April 2018.
– Picket lines will be in place outside Blackpool Victoria Hospital today (Wednesday) from 7am until 2pm. There will then be a rally at 12.30pm today at Henley Park, Warrington Road, Whiston, L35 5AL.
– High-resolution photos available upon request to c.mcgurran@unison.co.uk
– Interviews can be arranged upon request.
– 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 both the public and private sectors.

Media Contacts:
Conor McGurran T: 07817 120903 E: c.mcgurran@unison.co.uk
Siobhan Cooley T: 0207 121 5555 E: s.cooley@unison.co.uk