The GMB union has welcomed progress in talks with NHS Property Services and says it is increasingly likely that the threat of strike action at Uckfield Community Hospital will be removed.
The union says an offer has been put forward to remove all staff who transferred from East Sussex Hospital Trust in 2016 from the scope of a national transformation programme of job changes and pay scales variations.
According to the union the offer, received in a formal letter from NHS Property Services, includes acceptance that staff who carry out facilities services – cleaners, porters and catering staff – include duties outside the expected core of responsibilities.
The letter goes on to say that there will be no changes to current terms or bandings, and therefore pay for employees who transferred to NHS Property Services in December 2016.
The GMB says it will now consult members, with the likelihood that acceptance of the company’s proposal will see the threat of strike action removed.
Gary Palmer GMB regional organiser said: “This latest meeting held locally with NHSPS was, I think, the first where we felt the employer really looked like they had taken on board, not only the extent and appreciation of the range of duties carried out by staff working within local hospitals, but that any enforcement of change which then might ultimately lead to pay cuts just wasn’t fair or likely to be accepted by staff.
“The removal of Sussex hospitals from the proposed all encompassing national job description transformation programme rightly recognises the additional work carried out by soft FM facilities locally.”
The union said the suspension of any threat of industrial action would continue while members were consulted on the offer.
Mr Palmer added: “If the threat of strike action is removed staff can fully concentrate on delivering and maintaining their normal professional service for patients and the public alike, with their T&Cs assured and protected.
“GMB are always very proud of the tenacity of its members in not accepting any unfairness in the workplace and that resolve has in the end led to a proposal which could potentially see members accepting the offer and therefore an end to the current dispute.”
From an Uckfield News story on Tuesday, September 5:
The GMB union which was considering strike action for cleaners, porters and catering staff at Uckfield Community Hospital has agreed to talks with NHS Property Services.
Union members voted in favour of strike action but after ballot results were passed to NHS Property Services it contacted the union which is now expecting a meeting to be held to seek a resolution acceptable to members.
Gary Palmer GMB regional organisers said “… a resolution which means that staff will not lose money through what was portrayed as being purely an organisational transformation programme in the beginning and not the pay cut it ended up looking like.
“In light of NHSPS management’s willingness and desire to speak to us now about the possibility of an acceptable solution, GMB will temporarily delay issuing strike notices to allow for talks to take place as a sign of good faith in return.
“GMB and its members very much now hope that we can resolve matters agreeably and do so quite quicky. It’s a shame that we couldn’t get tothis point without having to threaten such drastic action.
“If not though we will seek to return to opposing robustly any enforced changes through taking action in order to protect the terms and onditions of our members in early October in compliance with strike action legal notification requirements.”
From an Uckfield News story on Monday, August 14:
GMB union members – who include cleaners, porters, and catering staff – are considering strike action at Uckfield Community Hospital.
Union organiser Gary Palmer said members want to protect their job roles, pay, and patient safety within hospitals where they provide services for East Sussex Health Care NHS Trust.
He said changes would see the vast majority of staff at hospitals such as Uckfield Community, Lewes Victoria and Crowborough War Memorial Hospitals suffer a pay cut and increased job responsibilities and duties.
“Slash and cut”
The staff were transferred from the NHS trust to NHS Property Services and, according to a press release from the union, feel that their new employer has “simply decided to slash and cut their way to profitability at the expense of those least able to absorb such drastic pay reductions”.
The union claims NHS Property Services has removed an established NHS Agenda for Change, job descriptions and pay bandings, protected under TUPE regulations, without meaningful consultation, to be replaced unilaterally with their own inferior pay scales and job evaluations.
A GMB ballot, from a return of 76.92% saw 95% of members refused to accept the current transformation proposal put forward by the company.
Now a postal industrial action ballot is to take place with a view to taking strike action if NHS Property Service continue to refuse to “meaningfully consult and engage with GMB members and press ahead with the implementation of unfair changes”.
The ballot on strike action will open on Friday (August 18) and run for two weeks. If members – 20 at Uckfield hospital – support strike action that could take place from mid-September.
Gary Palmer GMB Organiser said: “Time is purposefully being allowed to slip away by NHS Property Services as they continue to go through a sham predetermined outcome consultation period until the end of August.
“Many members of staff are still to receive the right consultation packs and job descriptions, and although the company apologies constantly over mix up after mix up, no members of staff GMB has spoken to has any confidence that what they are receiving will be the correct information or even fair in relation to their roles.
“Drastic pay reductions”
“They feel that NHS Property Services have simply decided to slash and cut their way to profitability at the expense of those least able to absorb such drastic pay reductions, in this case local staff.
“The strong, and not unexpected 95% result, in refusing to accept the unfair implementation of changes from those taking part in the ballot is indicative of the strength and depth of feeling of anger towards NHS Property Services by GMB members and I feel that as paperwork eventual arrives on door steps over the second stage of any proposed changes, the number of dissenting voices will only increase.
“All local GMB representations, on behalf of members and staff, have been met either with filibustering by the company, or a we don’t know the answer and we’ll get back to you response, which of course they never do.
“So I’m not holding out much hope that they will see sense around not just trying to push on and enforce unilateral detrimental changes to both staff and services, and instead seek to come back from the brink of a full on dispute with staff and GMB through constructive dialogue locally with us, but stranger things have happened I suspect.
“GMB have tabled an offer for a solution to de-escalate matters to NHS Property Services, and it’s an offer which still stands should they wish to explore it. If they fully involve local management, staff and the GMB through a NHS job evaluation process which their contracts support on the new roles, there’s every chance we could find a settlement of the matters arising from the currently looking to enforce through their own unsuitable and un-agreed banding processes upon staff.”
Comment from an NHS Property Services spokesperson:
“We need to correct the inconsistencies and inequalities we have for some colleagues that arise because we have many different job titles and job descriptions for very similar roles.
“We are genuinely consulting on the proposals with all our affected staff and their representatives and we have already made a number of changes in light of the feedback received so far.
“The GMB and other unions have been fully engaged with our national communications and consultation since January 2017 and have helped shape the process.”