Health pay rise must be for everyone in the NHS

Health service staff employed by private companies must not lose out on the wage rise

Thousands of health service staff employed by private companies must not lose out on the wage rise that’s expected to be announced soon for their NHS colleagues, says UNISON today (Thursday).

Porters, cleaners, catering assistants and other healthcare workers in NHS jobs outsourced to private contractors have performed tirelessly throughout the pandemic, says UNISON.

But the union fears most will be excluded from the coming pay increase unless private firms, the government and NHS trusts act now.

UNISON is calling on all private companies running health service contracts to pledge at least to match any government pay rise for workers directly employed by the NHS.

Ministers should also increase funding to trusts to end the growing gap between the salaries of NHS staff and colleagues employed by private firms. UNISON wants NHS trusts and boards to grant new contracts only to companies that pledge to equal health service pay rates.

The union says firms like Mitie, Sodexo, Medirest, ISS and Serco – as well as NHS trust-owned subsidiary companies – must also improve sick pay, overtime payments and annual leave allocation in line with NHS terms and conditions (known as Agenda for Change).

The call comes as a UNISON survey shows that privately employed cleaners, receptionists, porters, security guards and catering staff are missing out on higher wages, and annual leave because they’re not part of the NHS.

Only one in seven (14%) receive the same pay and benefits as their NHS colleagues, and almost two fifths (38%) get only the minimum wage (£8.91 an hour). The lowest hourly rate in the NHS is currently £9.21 an hour.

Workers responding to the survey – who were mostly women (72%) – faced the same challenging conditions as their NHS colleagues during the pandemic, says UNISON.

The survey reveals 48% of the privately employed staff who responded had worked on Covid wards. A quarter (26%) got the virus and had to take sick leave.

Financial struggles are very real for these workers, says UNISON. Half (51%) admitted they had to ask for financial support or find other ways of getting money.

One in four (25%) turned to friends and family, others used payday loans (5%), sold possessions (5%) or made new Universal Credit claims (5%).

Six in ten (63%) say they feel part of the NHS and seven in ten (73%) would rather be employed directly by a trust.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Dividing the NHS workforce in this way is not good for patient care or staff morale. Everyone in the NHS is part of one big team, and they all deserve a proper pay rise – especially after the past year.

“The Prime Minister must abandon any thought of 1% when he finally makes his long overdue announcement on NHS pay. He should ensure staff get a decent rise, with funding extended to cover all health workers. No-one should be left behind.

“People working on the same wards, doing the same jobs as their colleagues shouldn’t be paid substantially less. That’s not just morally wrong, it’s unfair too.”

UNISON wants to see:

  • All staff providing health services to be either directly employed by the NHS or on the same pay and contracts as those who are. All staff should also be paid at least real living wage rates (£9.50/£10.85 an hour).
  • Ministers ensuring any pay rise is fully funded so it covers staff working for private contractors on NHS premises.
  • Trusts only awarding contracts to those private firms agreeing to match NHS pay rates, and other benefits, such as sick pay and pensions.

Notes to editors:   
– The UNISON survey ran between 12 April-1 May 2021. Responses came from 1,650 people working in the NHS in England, Wales and Scotland but employed by private contractors. Since the survey was conducted, the Scottish government NHS pay offer has been accepted by UNISON members. It will apply to most contractor staff under an agreement that ensures they are paid and treated the same as directly employed staff.
– UNISON has recently achieved NHS pay rates and benefits for many privately employed staff including security guards at Blackburn and Burnley hospitals who will soon be employed by the NHS. Previously they worked for Engie Services Ltd on the minimum wage and earned £6,000 less per year than security guards employed by the NHS. And porters, cleaners, switchboard and catering staff at Cumberland Infirmary employed by Mitie will soon receive the same rates for working night and weekend shifts as their NHS colleagues.
– Case studies: A 46-year-old security officer, whose job was recently moved back into the NHS from a private contractor, said: “I’ve always felt part of the NHS but without any of the benefits. Every day, I ensure the safety of patients and NHS staff, I often have to restrain people who could have Covid, or deal with violent people. We discovered that employees doing the same jobs on other sites were paid NHS rates. So, we approached our employer but they weren’t interested. When things escalated to potential strikes, the NHS trust stepped in and took the contract back in-house. Now all security workers will benefit from NHS terms.”
– An outsourced health worker in the East of England said: “At my job interview, I was given the impression I’d be working for a charity, so I accepted a lower rate of pay. Instead, I’ve been placed in a role within the NHS, but I’m paid significantly less than people with the same level of experience working in-house. I get fewer days of holiday and an inferior pension. Some of my outsourced colleagues raised the issue with our employer but were given constant excuses about why the pay difference couldn’t be addressed.”
– A cleaner at an NHS trust in the South East said: “We earn so little, we have to do overtime to make ends meet. The contract has changed, and the new employer has given us an impossible workload. Our cleans are timed. If you don’t complete a clean in a set time, they withhold the extra shifts you need to get by. We’ve been promised a pay rise, but it hasn’t happened.”
– UNISON is organising a photo opportunity next Wednesday (23 June) in Westminster, London, at 9.30am with UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea and health workers to encourage the Prime Minister to announce a pay rise for NHS staff. Further details to follow.
– 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, private and community sectors.

Media contacts 
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