Forum to write letter

One of the No A & E hospital signs outside of the University Hospital of Hartlepool. Picture By FRANK REID
One of the No A & E hospital signs outside of the University Hospital of Hartlepool. Picture By FRANK REID

ANGRY councillors are set to write to health bosses about their concerns over proposals to scrap enhanced sickness payments for staff.

Officials at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust are proposing to cut extra payments to staff who call in sick while rostered to work unsocial hours, during the night or on weekends, or on bank holidays.

The trust, which runs the University Hospital of Hartlepool and the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, currently pays staff more for working during these hours and when they are off sick they still get the enhanced payments.

Union bosses have previously accused the trust of “incredibly provocative, bullying tactics” when 5,452 staff were issued with HR1 forms, which are also known as advance notification of redundancies.

They say the proposals effectively mean that if the staff do not agree to new terms and conditions by the end of March 2013, they would all be dismissed and then offered re-employment on the new, inferior terms and conditions.

But trust bosses say the HR1 is a legal requirement which is necessary because they are proposing to make a change in employees’ contracts.

Now members of Hartlepool Borough Council’s health scrutiny forum have slammed what they have dubbed a “threatening” letter that was sent to staff and Labour councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher, chairman of the forum, is to write to Alan Foster, the trust chief executive.

In the letter to staff, Mr Foster said: “Staff who have received unsocial hours payments in the last 12 months will be asked to sign a variation and change to their terms and conditions of employment relating to sickness enhancements.”

It goes on to say staff who do not sign their variation to contract will be served notice and issued with a new contract of employment.

Coun Akers-Belcher said this has implications for lowest paid members of staff in particular, adding: “Staff morale is low and it will be even lower if this goes ahead.

“It is the wrong time to be looking at this and it should be a national decision, not a local one.”

Independent councillor Keith Fisher said: “Anything is possible by agreement, but if people don’t agree then some times people resort to threats.

“That will never be right.”

Labour councillor Marjorie James described the move as “unacceptable” although Putting Hartlepool First group leader Geoff Lilley questioned whether it was in the remit of the forum to challenge the trust over this particular issue.

Coun James said it was “perfectly legitimate” for an elected councillor to express their concern.

The consultation has been launched as part of the trust’s £40m savings challenge.

The HR1 forms are a legal requirement when employers are proposing to dismiss 20 or more employees at one establishment, within a period of 90 days or less.

A trust spokeswoman has previously, said: “There are no job losses or redundancies planned and the 90-day consultation period is an opportunity for us to build the informal discussions we have already had with staff and to seek their views.”