Government must pay up to end growing NHS pay divide, says UNISON

The government must find the money to ensure tens of thousands of low-paid cleaners, porters, security guards and catering staff working for private contractors in hospitals across England receive the same pay rise as colleagues employed by the NHS, says UNISON today (Sunday).

The lowest paid workers in the NHS were given a £2,000 pay rise last year, as part of a three-year deal negotiated by health unions. But the overwhelming majority of health staff employed on private contracts have not received a penny, says UNISON.

Many outsourced staff haven’t had a wage rise in years and the growing pay divide is affecting the smooth running of the NHS, say UNISON. It is also having an impact on patient care, as outsourced staff leave in search of better-paid jobs.

On the eve of its annual health conference – which opens tomorrow in Bournemouth – UNISON is calling on the government to come up with the funding so everyone working in the NHS earns at least £9.03 an hour. Many staff employed by private contractors are on the minimum wage, earning just £8.21 an hour.

The NHS couldn’t function without the tens of thousands of staff working on private contracts, says UNISON. Every day they work alongside NHS colleagues doing similar jobs, but end up with substantially less money in their pay packets.

UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “All hospital workers are part of the NHS team and should be paid fairly for the important jobs they do. The days of treating them as second class employees in the NHS must end.

“Staff employed by private contractors are expected to deliver the same exceptional levels of service and also work under immense pressure. It’s only fair they receive the same pay as colleagues, often doing identical jobs but employed by the NHS.

“With ministers all-consumed by Brexit, the growing crisis in hospitals across the land is being ignored. The government found the money to fund the pay rise for health staff, now it must do the same for those on private contracts.

“A failure to do so risks damaging the health service beyond repair as firms can’t attract or hold on to the staff needed to provide a decent service to the NHS.”

UNISON has spoken to a number of workers employed on outsourced contracts about what the equivalent of last year’s NHS pay rise would mean to them. Names have been changed to protect their identities:

  • Roy is a cleaner employed by Mitie at the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust. He earns the minimum wage and says it’s a real struggle making ends meet. He has a young family, can’t remember the last time he took a holiday and says if it wasn’t for the support of his relatives they’d go under. The family always ends the month in the red and Roy worries about money all the time. He says a pay rise of 82p an hour – which would bring him up to the equivalent hourly NHS wage and mean an extra £130 a month – would make a real difference to him and his family.
  • Rihanna also works for Mitie in Cornwall, says she’s not had a pay rise in five years and the minimum wage rates the company pays means it struggles to hold onto staff. The high level of vacancies puts everyone under immense pressure, morale is at rock bottom and patient care is suffering. Staff who’ve started working for Mitie since it won the contract in 2014 don’t get the same sick pay or holiday as those who used to work for the NHS. Rihanna says this means newer staff often come in when they’re poorly, spreading germs to colleagues and patients.
  • Alex works in catering for Sodexo at the Doncaster Royal Infirmary and says a pay rise like the NHS increase would make a real difference. Alex hasn’t had a pay rise in nine years and is on the minimum wage. Alex says colleagues are always being told they’re part of the NHS team but their pay makes them feel unvalued. Alex says in parts of the country Sodexo has given its employees the NHS rise (Agenda for Change), but is refusing to in Doncaster.

Notes to editors:

– A worker on the minimum wage (£8.21 an hour) working NHS hours (37.5 hours and based on 52.14 weeks) would earn £16,052 per year. That’s £1,600 less a year than lowest NHS rate (£9.03 an hour).

– UNISON is campaigning across the country to ensure outsourced health workers don’t lose out when it comes to their pay. Recent notable successes include:

  • Just this week at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital, around 50 cleaners, porters, catering and security staff employed by OCS have secured NHS rates of pay following three days of strike action.
  • Over 330 staff at iFM Bolton, a wholly owned subsidiary, went on strike for two days last autumn and won full implementation of NHS rates.
  • The threat of industrial action at the beginning of the year was enough to see facilities workers employed by Sodexo at Wythenshawe Hospital get the same wage increase as directly employed colleagues, backdated to last April.

– UNISON is currently trying to secure NHS rates for staff working for private contractors in trusts across England. These include around 65 ISS workers providing facilities management services at Bishop Auckland Hospital; 600 Mitie staff working at the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust; Sodexo employees at the Doncaster & Bassetlaw Foundation Trust; Compass Medirest facilities and catering staff at St Helens & Knowsley Trust and Blackpool Victoria Hospital; and 90 ISS workers at Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust.

– The NHS pay framework agreement was reached last June following months of negotiation between unions, employers and ministers. The three-year deal meant pay increases for over a million workers on Agenda for Change contracts and was backdated to April 2018.

– UNISON is holding its annual health workers’ conference at Bournemouth International Centre from 8 to 10 April.

– 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.

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