Walkout fears hit Wigan hospitals

Hundreds of NHS staff at the borough's hospitals unhappy about being moved to a new company have taken the first step towards strike action.

Tuesday, 6th February 2018, 8:02 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th February 2018, 9:16 am
Wigan Infirmary

A consultative ballot by trade union Unison asking staff if they were happy about being transferred to WWL Solutions returned a 93 per cent response in favour of industrial action.

The turnout of 79 per cent was also well over the rate needed for a formal ballot on whether to down tools or not to be valid.

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Unison will now arrange an official vote of its members asking if they want to walk out over the issue.

Around 900 staff at the borough’s hospitals, covering a huge range of roles including porters, caterers, cleaners, switchboard operators, office staff, estates employees and transport providers, will all be moved to the subsidiary company.

In the wake of the overwhelming backing for industrial action the union stepped up its criticism of WWL Solutions, accusing the architects of the plan of wanting to save money.

Sean Gibson, UNISON North West regional organiser, said: "The consultative ballot result shows the deep concern of staff about these damaging proposals.

"Good-quality catering, cleaning and portering services are all crucial to the efficient operation of the hospitals and to the experience of patients.

"The staff performing these roles form a key part of the NHS team and they should remain in the direct employment of the Trust, not pushed away into an outsourced separate company.

"The bosses’ plans are designed to cut costs at the expense of staff and could lead to back door privatisation. We don’t want the likes of a Carillion or a Capita to be getting more involved in our NHS.

"We will move now to a formal ballot on strike action. At the same time, we will continue negotiations with the Trust and will be pressing them to change their plans."

Employees fear the move to the new firm will leave them vulnerable in the future to pay cuts, reductions in holiday and overtime allowances and even the introduction of zero-hours contracts.

The Trust has so far failed to reassure critics of the plan, despite these again being repeated as WWL Solutions’ board was unveiled.

Two of the three directors’ posts will be filled in-house with former Wigan MP and councillor Neil Turner taking on the role of chairman.

He said: "For too long it has been one-way traffic with public services moving into the private sector. We will be able to provide services which are based on the public good, not private profit and I look forward to handing over the first cheque to WWL from the profits made by WWL Solutions."

The company’s new managing director David Evans said: "WWL is one of the top-performing hospital trusts in the country because we value our staff.

"Their terms and conditions will be safeguarded, not just because the TUPE regulations guarantee them, but because I want to manage a team of highly-motivated staff who are justly rewarded for the work they do."

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy has given affected staff her backing, who said NHS staff "must not be forced to pay the price for Tory cuts".