Renewed strike threat as talks break down at hospital trust

Unison members striking outside Pontefract hospital.
Unison members striking outside Pontefract hospital.
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UNION leaders are preparing to ballot 3,000 hospital staff for strike action after talks to end a bitter industrial dispute over pay cuts for mainly low-paid clerical workers broke down.

Medical secretaries are among Unison members at hospitals in Wakefield, Pontefract and Dewsbury who have staged nine 
days of strike action in recent months.

In January, the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust – which is battling to make savings of £24m – sent letters to 74 administration and clerical staff, telling them 
to sign up to pay cuts of up to £2,800 a year or face losing their jobs.

Unison had put forward a range of proposals to cut costs and negate the need to cut pay or make compulsory redundancies at the trust which runs NHS services in Wakefield, Pontefract and Dewsbury.

But Graham Briggs, the trust’s director of HR, said yesterday: “Regrettably the alternative proposal that was put forward by union colleagues actually increased the annual costs of running the service by £2m, which is clearly unaffordable.”

He said a final improved offer of up to 18 months pay protection plus an additional six months pay protection in a lump sum had been made.

A deadline for staff to sign up for the pay cuts or cease working for the trust has been extended until Thursday.

Mr Briggs said: “There is nothing further that can be gained by continued negotiations and we therefore have no option but to make our final pay protection offer and to proceed to implement the proposals.”

Unison’s Adrian O’Malley said a ballot of all the trust’s union members, including nurses, could now go ahead.

Mr O’Malley strenuously denied that Unison’s proposals would have added £2m to the trust’s costs.

He added: “We are making arrangements to start a ballot for strike action of all 3,000 members.”

Mr Briggs wrote an in an email to trust staff: “The changes to terms and conditions will be put into effect from the end of April this year.

“I know this will be unwelcome news for affected staff.

“We cannot escape the fact that this trust, as a whole, must make significant savings and the savings within our administrative and clerical service are one element of this.

“We have tried to work hard with staff and their representatives to mitigate any individual impact, for instance, we have successfully avoided any contested compulsory redundancies.

“This is something we would always aim to do.

“While I know the changes will be difficult, we are confident that the new arrangements we have proposed for these admin and clerical roles are appropriate and that the pay protection arrangements we have offered will help the individuals affected to adjust to that change.

“The trust needs to make considerable savings and also has an obligation to ensure that we 
deliver best value for public 
funds.

“This means it is only right that we look at every area of workforce expenditure as well as other ways we can make cost savings.

“Although we are making good progress with this, it remains a challenge that we must meet in order to secure the future of our services.”

Last month union leaders had raised hopes that the dispute, could soon be resolved.

The Yorkshire Post understands proposals put forward by the unions include one which it is claimed could save the trust more than £196,000 a year on postage alone.

The trust currently sends letters to hundreds of patients each day asking them to contact the relevant hospital department to book an appointment.

The patient is asked to contact the department to make an appointment and a confirmation letter is sent out.

The proposed new system involved just one letter being sent to a patient, who would call the relevant hospital department and make a note of their appointment.