Hospital staff in Wigan prepared to strike to protect jobs

Staff at the borough's hospitals involved in a bitter dispute over changes to employment status are prepared to strike to protect their jobs.

Thursday, 22nd March 2018, 12:47 pm
Updated Thursday, 22nd March 2018, 12:55 pm
Wigan Infirmary

A whistleblower told the Wigan Post that employees of Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust are almost entirely united against moving to the controversial new firm WWL Solutions.

A massive 82 per cent of those balloted by leading trade union Unison said no to the transfer to the subsidiary company, paving the way for work to begin on a formal ballot for industrial action.

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Health bosses want to move to the new organisation around 900 staff from the borough’s hospitals, including porters, cleaners, caterers, switchboard operators, transport employees, procurers and those working in linen services and the medical electronics and loan store.

The idea has been condemned by leading trade unionists and both MPs and councillors.

A source, whose identity is being protected, has now also spoken of the atmosphere in the hospitals among those affected by the potential changes.

It would not be a decision dedicated NHS staff would take lightly, she said, but many employees at WWL feel they have no other options left.

She said: “We are very determined to go ahead with industrial action. There will be a meeting next week with the union and all the executives.

“They think they can propose another option but basically there isn’t anything else they can now propose to sway people into going forward with this.

“I think around 90 per cent of people are prepared to walk out if we get that in the ballot.

“The hospital will come to a standstill. We are obviously very worried about patients and the nurses because it’s unfair to them but at the same time we’ve got to look after our departments.

“If we don’t do this then within 12 months of us transferring our terms and conditions could get ripped up. The Trust bosses know what the situation is, they are not stupid.

“Everybody is fighting for their jobs and they are all of the same opinion. The Trust has talked about giving us a 25-year guarantee at meetings but we’ve looked into it legally and so have the unions and they just can’t do that.

“They can’t give us a five or 10-year guarantee. Legally if we agree to go over to the new contracts’ terms and conditions then they can give us 90 days’ notice and rip them up, which will basically leave us knackered.”

The concern around the move to WWL Solutions is to do with what happens after the initial year.

Initially TUPE regulations protect the existing rights and conditions for staff as they move over and an amendment in 2014 is supposed to guarantee subsequent changes are not unfavourable to staff.

WWL says it has no intention of watering down terms for employees and has pointed to its previous track record resisting privatisation in the health service, but trade unions and those concerned about the move say there is simply no way that WWL can make cast-iron promises.

The law, they say, entirely leaves employees at the mercy of Trust goodwill once the TUPE period is over.

Those contemplating industrial action have been backed to the hilt by local politicians, with Wigan MP Lisa Nandy and Coun George Davies, a former Wigan Infirmary porter, piling the pressure on hospital bosses for a rethink.

Ms Nandy said: “I have been proud to work with so many hardworking NHS staff who are pushing back against these damaging proposals and defending a publicly run NHS. They have my full support.”

Hospital bosses are urging worried staff to come forward and speak to them.

A WWL spokesman said: “WWL believes that WWL Solutions provides the best future for staff and patients. The Trust has and continues to engage with staff to ensure the optimal solution for all is achieved.

"We encourage all our staff to share any concerns they have so that we can address them, and we have a number of channels that can be used.

“This includes our Freedom to Speak Up Guardian, who any member of staff can approach to raise concerns, with the assurance that they will be listened to and appropriate action taken.

“We recognise staff have raised a number of concerns during this period of proposed change.”