Unions hold last-ditch talks to avert Cumberland Infirmary strike

Mitie, the hospital trust and Health Management Carlisle are squabbling over who is responsible for paying 150 workers unsocial hours payments that have been missed for a decade

UNISON and GMB are holding crunch talks with Mitie and North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust, in a last-ditch attempt to avoid strike action.

More than 150 porters, cleaners, switchboard and catering staff employed by Mitie at Cumberland Infirmary are set to stage 24-hour strikes on Friday 26 February and again on Monday 1 March 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 UNISON has discovered that the Cumberland Infirmary staff have not received the payments for over 10 years, leaving them significantly out of pocket.

Last week, the unions called for an investigation into where a “substantial sum” of money is, which could be used to avert the strike.

But Mitie (which bought the facilities management business from Interserve last December), the trust and Health Management Carlisle (HMC) have continued to squabble over whose responsibility it is to ensure that the hospital workers receive the payments.

UNISON North West regional organiser David Atkinson said: “The trust needs to take more responsibility for the workers it employs to deliver key services.

“It’s simply not good enough to say that it handed over a ‘substantial sum’ of public money to HMC in order to pay unsocial hours, without putting anything in place to ensure that the money was passed on to frontline workers.”

Figures released in recent weeks show that Mitie’s revenue in the third quarter of this financial year rose by 6.7% to £574m, with the company chief executive Phil Bentley tweeting: “Today Mitie published its results for Q3 FY20/21 – great to see our shares finishing up strongly.

“Mitie saw a strong Q3, with revenue (excl. Interserve) reaching £573.9m – up 6.7%. This was driven by our support in the UK’s fight against Coronavirus [sic].”

Mr Atkinson noted: “We congratulate mega-rich Mitie on their mind-bogglingly high levels of revenue. As Phil Bentley himself acknowledges, this money was made by profiting from the fight against coronavirus.

“Chief executives do not have to put their lives at risk in the UK’s pandemic efforts. But hospital cleaners, porters, caterers and switchboard staff do.

“To add insult to injury for Mitie workers at Cumberland Infirmary, when they work away from their families overnight or at the weekend, they receive less pay than colleagues employed by the NHS who do exactly the same jobs.

“It is these health service heroes who have kept our hospitals clean and safe during the pandemic and it is the same health service heroes who have driven Mitie’s monumental profits. The least Mitie could do to reward them is to pay the NHS rates for the job – their recent financial results show that they can easily afford it.

“If Mitie cares about local people, be they patients or staff, they will give a written guarantee that Cumberland Infirmary workers will receive proper unsocial hours payments going forwards. If they do, we can cancel the strike action that both Mitie and the trust claim to be keen to avoid.”