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Blackburn healthcare workers to strike for three days over pay

The workers, employed by private company OCS in Lancashire and the South Cumbria NHS Trust, voted overwhelmingly in favor of three days of industrial action, UNISON said today.

All 50 staff, including porters, caterers and cleaners, work for the healthcare facility company at eight NHS sites across Lancashire, after 92.3% of workers voted to strike .

They claim the same sick pay and annual leave as staff directly employed by the NHS.

The workers are employed in hospitals, mental health units and clinics in Blackburn, Blackpool, Ormskirk and Preston and are expected to strike for 72 hours from Wednesday June 29 to Friday July 1.

The full list of Lancashire sites that will be affected by the UNISON NHS strike is as follows:

  • Daisyfield Mill Clinic, Royal Blackburn Hospital
  • Mount Clinic, Accrington
  • Balladen House, Rossendale
  • Harbor and Wesham Rehabilitation Units, Blackpool
  • Guild Park Hospital, Preston
  • Ormskirk and District General Hospital

Until April this year, SCO staff were paid less per hour than their NHS colleagues doing the same work.

Pressure from UNISON led the trust and the SCO to agree last summer to match NHS pay rates. This meant a 69p increase to £10.19 an hour for workers.

But, unlike employees working directly for the NHS, SCO workers do not receive extra money for night, weekend or bank holiday shifts.

If OCS employees fall ill, they only receive statutory sick pay of less than £100 a week.

This means many are forced to continue working when they are feeling unwell because they cannot afford to take time off, which can put patients at risk, says UNISON.

Colleagues employed by the NHS receive their full pay when they are sick. But the employer and the trust refused to increase sick pay, annual leave or evening/weekend pay.

They also won’t agree to backdate the wage increase to May 2021, when the workers’ wage complaint was first filed.

An OCS employee said, “Many visitors and patients don’t know that we work for a private company and live hand-to-mouth due to low wages.

“We all work for the NHS and SCO staff should not be treated any differently than anyone else.”

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

UNISON North West regional organizer Dale Ollier said: ‘SCO staff should be paid in full when they are unwell, given the same as NHS colleagues for night work or weekend and be allowed to take the same number of vacations.

“No one wants services cut off, but the SCO and trusted bosses have been ignoring these workers for over a year. Employees performing similar functions should be treated the same, regardless of who they work for.

“Retail, hospitality and online distribution companies are now paying better rates to attract and retain the staff they need. OCS will struggle to retain its staff if it continues to treat them so badly.

“The health sector is already struggling to fill vacancies. If this dispute is not resolved, the vacancy rate will increase and this will impact patient care.

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