Frontline health workers vote ‘yes’ to strike action at sites across Lancashire says UNISON

Health workers employed by private company OCS at Lancashire & South Cumbria NHS Trust have voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking strike action, the trade union UNISON announced on Friday.

By Aimee Seddon
Monday, 20th June 2022, 12:30 pm

The 50 staff, including porters, caterers and cleaners, work for the healthcare facilities firm at eight NHS sites across Lancashire, and are asking for the same sick pay and annual holiday as staff directly employed by the NHS.The workers are employed at hospitals, mental health units and clinics in Preston, Blackpool, Ormskirk and Blackburn, and are expected to strike for 72 hours from Wednesday June 29 to Friday July 1.Until April this year, OCS staff were paid less per hour than NHS colleagues doing the same jobs, however UNISON says that pressure from themselves led to the trust and OCS agreeing last summer to match NHS pay rates, meaning a 69p increase to £10.19 an hour for the workers.

But, unlike employees working directly for the NHS, OCS workers still get no extra money for night, weekend or bank holiday shifts.

In addition, if OCS employees fall ill, they get only statutory sick pay of less than £100 a week, where as colleagues employed by the NHS receive their full wages.

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Health workers employed by private company OCS at Lancashire & South Cumbria NHS Trust are expected to strike for 72 hours at the end of the month.

This means many OCS employees are forced to keep working when unwell because they can’t afford to be off, potentially putting patients at risk, says UNISON.

The union claims that both the employer and trust have refused to raise sick pay, annual leave or evening/weekend allowances, as well as not agreeing to backdate the wage increase to May 2021, which is when the workers’ pay complaint was first lodged.

One OCS employee said: “Many visitors and patients are not aware we work for a private firm and are living hand to mouth because of low pay. We all work for the NHS and OCS staff should not be treated differently from everyone else.”

Another said: “The hospital couldn’t function without the work done by OCS staff. Prices are soaring and everyone is struggling to pay their bills. We are key workers and should be paid fairly.”

UNISON North West regional organiser Dale Ollier said: “OCS staff should be paid in full when poorly, receive the same as NHS colleagues for night or weekend work and be allowed to take the same amount of holiday.“No one wants services to be disrupted but OCS and trust bosses have been ignoring these workers for more than a year. Employees doing similar jobs should be treated the same, regardless of who they work for.“Retail, hospitality and online distribution firms are now paying better rates to attract and keep the staff they need. OCS will struggle to hold on to its staff if it continues to treat them so shabbily.“The healthcare sector is already struggling to fill vacancies. Failing to resolve this dispute will see staff vacancy rates rise and that will have an impact on patient care.”

A spokesperson from Lancashire and South Cumbria commented: “We have been assured by OCS Group UK Limited that business continuity plans will be in place to ensure that the delivery of the Trust’s critical and important mental health services across our sites is not affected.”

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