HOSPITAL staff are to take three more days of strike action in an ongoing dispute with their employer.

Outsourced staff employed by private contractor Compass within the St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust begin three days of strike action from tomorrow (Friday).

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Union UNISON say the industrial action is being taken again over the company’s failure to match NHS pay rates and working conditions.

It is the third time strike action has been taken over the matter following a one-day walk-out on July 31 and then for two more days on August 27 and 28.

St Helens Star:

A picket line outside Whiston Hospital during July's strike

A rally was held at the Rainhill ex-services club during the second strike in August at which union representatives and both St Helens MPs spoke.

The union claims most workers affected are paid only the minimum wage rate of £8.21 an hour while working alongside colleagues who are employed directly by the NHS, where the lowest rate is £9.03 an hour, adding this difference of 82p an hour is worth £1,500 a year for full-time staff.

UNISON adds that Compass staff are further disadvantaged by receiving no shift bonuses for working weekends and bank holidays and says they receive only statutory sick pay, whereas their NHS colleagues are able to access a comprehensive sick pay scheme.

The union also claims that some of the workers have been disciplined by the firm and accused the company of trying to "suppress staff in an attempt to force them back to work".

Compass staff from the Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust are also taking strike action over the three days over the dispute, with around 300 staff from the two Trusts taking part, says the union.

UNISON regional organiser Pat Woolham said: “The way Compass is treating its staff is a disgrace.

“The fact a company that made £1.5bn in profit last year refuses to agree an 82p pay rise for its lowest-paid staff is shocking enough. But to add insult to injury, Compass is now punitively and gratuitously targeting dedicated hospital workers who have spoken out about this grave injustice.

“The multi-national outsourcing giant has opened disciplinary proceedings against several strikers, one of whom is a UNISON representative and another has been nominated to become a union rep. Their crime is simply speaking honestly to the media about their personal finances and experiences of working on minimum wage.

“It’s plain that Compass is aiming to silence the strikers and suppress staff in an attempt to force them back to work. But the strikers are united, determined and will take further action if necessary.

“Employees wouldn’t have needed to speak out if Compass had listened to them in the first place. The company has made no offer to our members since the two-day strike in August. It’s time for Compass to pay the NHS rate for NHS jobs.”

However, a spokesperson for Compass insists it recognises the right of employees to take part in the strike and remain "committed to trying to resolve this issue".

A spokesperson for Medirest, of Compass, said: “People are at the heart of our business and working alongside our clients, we are committed to trying to resolve this issue. Pay rates are set out in our client contracts and agreed in partnership with our NHS Trust clients.

"On this basis, Medirest has been discussing pay agreements with employees, union representatives and our Trust clients since May, endeavouring to reach a fair settlement.

" We remain committed to finding a resolution to this dispute and while we’re disappointed with UNISON’s decision to take industrial action, we recognise the right of our employees to take part in this strike.

“Our focus is to ensure that we maintain our duty of care and the high standards expected from Medirest and our Trust clients.”

Note - A press release had suggested strikes for St Helens and Knowsley staff was to start today (Thursday). However, it has been clarified the starting date is tomorrow (Friday), with Blackpool staff striking from today.