Cumberland Infirmary workers stage second strike

UNISON calls on NHS England to investigate where a “substantial sum” of money has gone that should have been used to fund unsocial hours payments for the workers

UNISON members on a socially distanced picket line outside Cumberland Infirmary

UNISON members at Cumberland Infirmary are taking a second day of strike action today as their private employer refuses to end a decade of missing payments.

More than 150 porters, cleaners, switchboard and catering staff employed at Cumberland Infirmary by facilities company Mitie, took a first day of action on Friday over missing payments for working unsocial hours.

Workers directly employed by the NHS 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.

UNISON and the GMB held crunch talks with Mitie and North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust last week in a final attempt to avoid industrial action.

It was agreed that the workers should receive the unsocial hours payments, but the company and trust could not agree who should pay for this, with both claiming that they were not liable.

The unions offered to withdraw their strike action if they received a written guarantee from Mitie that unsocial hours payments would begin within the next two months. But the company – which made a profit of over £574m in the last quarter alone – refused to make such a commitment.

The unions have previously called for an investigation into what has happened to a “substantial sum” of money that the trust claims it has already passed on in order to fund the payments.

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.

“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,” said Mr Atkinson.

He noted that, for the strikes, Mitie and the trust drafted in agency workers and NHS workers from other parts of the region – with the latter receiving payments for unsocial hours.

Mr Atkinson also said that members were prepared to take further action if needed, but also stressed that “NHS England should look into what has happened to the substantial sum” of money that is unaccounted for, but which has “not gone to frontline staff” as it should have.

A hardship fund has been launched to help support these
low-paid members. Please donate via bank transfer to:

Unity Bank;
sort code – 60-83-01;
account number – 20330637.

Or send a cheque, made payable to UNISON Cumbria and North Lancashire Health Hardship Fund, to:

UNISON Resource Centre,
6 Spencer Street,
Cumbria, CA1 1BG