THE employer of the outsourced NHS staff members who have voted to strike say they remain committed to an "open and constructive dialogue" with unions and workers.

More than 150 staff employed by a private contractor within St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust have unanimously voted to take strike action

at the end of the month over claims the employer has failed to match NHS pay rates.

The staff, who work for multinational outsourcing company Compass as catering, cleaning, security, portering and reception staff and most are paid the minimum wage rate of £8.21 an hour, UNISON says.

But the union claims Compass staff work alongside colleagues who are employed directly by the NHS, where the lowest rate is £9.03 an hour.

This difference of 82p an hour is worth £1,600 a year for full-time staff, says UNISON.

After a wage rise was not given last year, UNISON asked its members whether they wished to go on strike over the issue.

UNISON balloted 227 members working for Compass at St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which saw a 73.6 per cent turnout.

The union says 100 per cent of respondents voted to take industrial action.

A one-day strike will take place within all three NHS trusts on Wednesday, July 31 if ongoing talks between UNISON and Compass are not able to reach a successful conclusion.

A spokesperson for Medirest, of the Compass Group, said discussions are ongoing and that they are committed to "an open and constructive dialogue".

The spokesperson said: “We are aware of the planned strike by some Medirest employees at these sites and we take such matters very seriously. Medirest is in ongoing discussions with UNISON, our employees and our Trust clients and we remain committed to having an open and constructive dialogue.”

Staff working within Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and have also been balloted by UNISON, with staff in both trusts also voting 100 per cent in favour of action, says the union.

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UNISON members involved in the dispute

Commenting on the vote, Donovan Rowe, a porter employed by Compass at St Helens Hospital, said: “It’s disheartening to work alongside colleagues doing the same job who are getting paid more than you.

“It’s affecting staff morale and creating a divide between staff on NHS contracts and the rest of us. We do the same jobs and it’s only right that we get the same pay.

“I’m working weekend and night shifts, but unlike my NHS colleagues don’t earn any extra for doing these. At times I’ve worked 45 hours overtime a month just to get by. If we got the pay rise, I would be able to work my contracted hours every week and have more time to spend with my family.”

Michelle Tymon, a UNISON representative who also works for Compass but gets the higher NHS rate for the job, added: “I am fully supportive of my striking colleagues.

“We all do exactly the same work and yet those of us lucky to be on NHS contracts earn thousands of pounds more per year. We all play our part in keeping the health service going and it’s only right we all receive proper NHS pay and conditions."

UNISON North West regional organiser Lisa Walsh said: “It’s completely wrong that staff working side by side together within the NHS are getting different rates for the job.

“On top of the issue of hourly pay, those on Agenda for Change (NHS) contracts are receiving shift bonuses and better sick pay schemes.

“All of these workers deserve an NHS contract for an NHS job – it’s time for the two tier workforce to end.

“The 100 per cent mandate for strike action shows how strongly these dedicated hospital staff feel about this issue.

“Compass made £1.7bn in profit last year. They should put their hands into their deep pockets and find the 82p per hour that would make little difference to their profits but would be a huge help to NHS workers in St Helens, Blackpool and Liverpool.”

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