The threat of strike action at the borough’s hospitals is looming after a controversial plan to alter employment terms was rejected by staff.
A ballot by Unison about proposals to move 900 staff into subsidiary firm WWL Solutions produced an overwhelming result against the idea.
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An enormous 82 per cent of those consulted did not want to be employed by the wholly-owned company, with a 69 per cent turnout.
If that result were repeated in a formal ballot it would give the union legal authority for industrial action.
Political pressure is now also being ramped up on Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust bosses, with MPs and councillors alarmed at the prospect of a two-tier health workforce.
Unison said assurances on terms and conditions, what would happen if WWL Solutions failed and progress in the future had not convinced staff who are concerned about erosion of their rights further down the line.
Sean Gibson, Unison North West regional organiser, said: “Staff feel very strongly about the value of being employed by the NHS. Catering staff, cleaners and porters all want to stay part of the NHS team.
“We will be holding meetings with members across the main hospital sites this week with a view to a formal ballot for industrial action.
“We are open to meet with management, but they have to be clear that their outsourcing proposal is simply unacceptable to the vast majority of our members.”
At Westminster Wigan parliamentary representative Lisa Nandy has given the staff affected her full support and called on hospital bosses to think again.
She said: “I’m grateful to WWL staff who have taken a brave decision to reject these damaging proposals and keep the NHS in public hands.
“They are acting in the best interests of patients and they have my full support. I hope the Trust will now listen and abandon these plans to avoid the very real prospect of strike action.
“It is not in the interests of staff or patients to see a two tier workforce develop in our NHS and undermine the teamwork and commitment to public service that keeps the NHS going.”
Ms Nandy also said the Labour Party had written to health secretary Jeremy Hunt demanding action to stop the creation of subsidiary companies such as WWL Solutions, which it called “backdoor privatisation”.
Long-serving local elected representative Coun George Davies, who worked for decades as a porter at Wigan Infirmary, is also backing the employees in the dispute.
He said: “The employees are so against this and we are fighting for all our ancillary staff. All NHS staff need to be protected with the same NHS contract and conditions. We are seeing this in other parts of the country and in the next couple of years it could destroy our NHS as we know it.”
WWL issued a short official statement as news broke of the union ballot result.
A spokesperson 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.’’