Unions’ anger at sick pay plan

UNIONS say some of the lowest paid public sector workers will be hit hard in the pocket if proposed changes to hospital staff contracts go ahead.

Around 100 union members attended a noisy rally outside the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, to protest against the plans yesterday afternoon.

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, which runs hospitals in Hartlepool and Stockton, is 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.

Unison, Unite and the Royal College of Nursing all voiced their objections to the proposals during the rally.

But the trust says the suggestion came from staff themselves as part of its challenge to find £40m savings.

Josie Robinson, a sister at the University Hospital of Hartlepool and member of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “We have already suffered a two-year pay freeze and our pensions have increased.

“I just feel it is unfair because neighbouring trusts are not doing this. We will be receiving less pay. I think a lot of nurses feel disadvantaged and they are opposing it.”

Stephen Thomas, a member of Unison’s branch executive in Hartlepool, described the move as a “blatant attack” on staff conditions.

He said: “It would have a tremendous amount of impact in Hartlepool.

“The people who are going to be affected are some of the lowest public sector workers.

“It is another in a long line of blatant attacks on the conditions of staff within the public sector and has got to be resisted.”

Jake Turnbull, of the Royal College of Nursing, said the trust should look at its executives for possible savings first.

“The chief executive is on, with benefits, almost £250,000 a year. A nurse earns 10 times less.

“Maybe they should look closer to home before they start cutting from the front line.

“Why should a nurse who works in Hartlepool get different pay and benefits to a nurse who works in Newcastle or Sunderland?”

Unison says members are angry that the trust is looking at the proposals while national negotiations are still ongoing.

The rally was held to coincide with a board meeting of the hospital trust’s executive.

Many passing drivers honked their horns in support of the protesters and could be heard inside the board meeting,

The contract changes are expected to affect more than 5,000 trust employees, from nurses and midwives to porters and clerical staff.

The trust stressed a consultation is still ongoing and they will listen to feedback.

Clare Curran, the trust’s director of human resources and education, said: “Our own staff suggested removing sickness enhancement payments as part of our £40m challenge.

“We undertook informal discussions with staff over the summer to gauge the depth of feeling and, because around two thirds of the staff we spoke to said they supported this idea, we decided to go ahead with this consultation.

“We are currently meeting our recognised trade unions and consulting with them with a view to reaching an agreement on the process; trying to agree a process with our recognised trade unions was an important step for us.

“We feel disappointed the trade unions are taking these actions so soon into this process and before we have reached any final agreements on how we can jointly consult all of our staff.

“We think they should work with us to help reach a conclusion on this matter rather than taking these steps at this early stage.

“Our staff told us we should reward attendance at work, not absence.”

“We are an outlier for our sickness absence and our managers and trade unions have worked with us to try and tackle it.

“Sickness absence puts additional pressure on those who are at work as well as costing the trust money.”