Wigan NHS staff face uncertainty over trust's reshuffle

Wigan Infirmary
Wigan Infirmary
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Hospital bosses have sought to reassure workers after unions and employees raised the alarm about changes to employment status.

Hundreds of employees at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust, including cleaners, porters and caterers, are due to be transferred to subsidiary company WWL Solutions in May.

That has led to suggestions they may face loss of holiday and sick pay or even moves to zero-hours contracts, with a leading union saying it is also concerned about the move.

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy has also offered her full backing to the employees and criticised the Trust, claiming the plans could have “serious implications” for many of the Trust’s hardworking staff.

WWL, however, has emphatically stated this is not the case and not only will current working conditions be retained but their pension rights will move across too.

A Trust spokesperson said: “There is no truth in rumours regarding degradation of terms and conditions or the introduction of zero-hours contracts for current staff.

“WWL prides itself on good staff engagement and, throughout this process, all staff have, and continue to be, communicated with on any concerns they may have.

“WWL Solutions is a wholly-owned subsidiary company of WWL with the sole intention of continuing to deliver exemplary support services to the Trust and facilitating the best patient care.

“The creation of WWL Solutions enables the expansion of services to other public and private organisations. The company remains part of the NHS. NHS terms and conditions of employment for current Trust staff that transfer into the company will be retained and it is the Trust’s intention to also transfer pension rights as has happened with other organisations that have been set up in a similar way.

“Numerous similar companies have been established within the NHS and have been proved to be both efficient and effective.”

The changes affect all WWL’s sites and concern anyone working in the estates and facilities and procurement departments, with around 900 staff involved in total.

The intervention from the top comes as concern mounts among front-line staff as to what the transfer to WWL Solutions, which has the Trust’s chief executive Andrew Foster as one of its directors, might mean.

“Numerous similar companies have been established within the NHS and have been proved to be both efficient and effective.”

The changes affect all WWL’s sites and concern anyone working in the estates and facilities and procurement departments, with around 900 staff involved in total.

The intervention from the top comes as concern mounts among front-line staff as to what the transfer to WWL Solutions, which has the Trust’s chief executive Andrew Foster as one of its directors, might mean.

One employee, who asked not to be identified, said: “People are scared that they are going to have their holiday pay and sick pay removed and that some people will even go on to zero hour contracts. It is scary.

“People feel like they don’t have a choice but to sign these contracts. The unions are asking people to get behind the campaign to stop these contracts being pushed through.”

There is also political opposition to the Trust’s plan.

Wigan parliamentary representative Ms Nandy said: ““I have already contacted the chief executive of the Trust to express my strong opposition to these plans, which could potentially have very serious implications for many of the Trust’s hardworking and dedicated staff.

“While I understand the serious financial pressures on the NHS after seven years of Tory government, the NHS thrives because of its committed staff and they must not be forced to pay the price for Tory cuts through their pensions, wages or employment rights.

“It is not in patients’ interests for a two-tier workforce to develop in our hospitals. Our NHS staff are a lifeline for local families at the most difficult times in their lives. That’s why I have offered our local NHS staff my full support.”

Trade union Unison said it was urgently gathering local opinions on the move and could consider taking stronger action.

Sean Gibson, Unison North West regional organiser, said: “The Trust is proposing to no longer directly employ a key group of staff who are crucial to the smooth running of the hospital.

“It is a source of pride for staff that they work for the NHS and we think it is wrong that the Trust is considering moving staff to a new employer. The Trust thinks their plan will save money and we are concerned that this will come out of the pockets of workers.

“Transferred staff would be more vulnerable to attacks on their pay and conditions, and new starters are likely to be employed on lower wages.

“A new separate company would also be at greater risk of ultimately being sold off to the private sector. We have seen the chaos that profit-seeking companies can cause to public services and we would not want the likes of Carillion anywhere near our NHS in Wigan.

“Our members in the hospitals feel strongly that they would prefer to be a core part of the NHS team. At this stage, we cannot rule out industrial action if the Trust refuses to ditch these damaging plans.”