'Extra staff' row as Barnstaple hospital strike enters its second day

STRIKING Barnstaple hospital workers say they have been kicked in the teeth after claims extra workers have been bussed in from outside the area and put up in a local hotel to cover the duration of the 48 hour strike. The union representing the 200-odd

STRIKING Barnstaple hospital workers say they have been "kicked in the teeth" after claims extra workers have been bussed in from outside the area and put up in a local hotel to cover the duration of the 48 hour strike.

The union representing the 200-odd Sodexo caterers, cleaners and porters currently on the picket lines outside North Devon District Hospital says although their members are not receiving the sick pay and better rates they are entitled to following a national agreement, money can still be found to bring in extra staff.

The latest twist comes in an increasingly bitter war of words between the two sides, but Northern Devon Healthcare Trust has strongly denied it has employed extra staff.

In fact it said yesterday(Tuesday) that the strike had caused comparatively little disruption compared with the icy conditions.

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But Unison is claiming there are additional workers and although they may already be employed by Sodexo, they are on better rates of pay than local workers.

"These workers are being paid more than �8.70 an hour, accommodated at the Premier Inn, bussed in from other regions and then into the hospital in the backs of managers' cars and past the picket lines," said Helen Eccles, Regional Organiser for Unison South West.

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"As the trust are telling us that they cannot afford to pay North Devon workers the agreed national rate they are paying dozens of outside workers to stay in local hotels on rates of pay our workers are being refused - and this is a real kick in the teeth.

"This is tax payer's money being used to try and beat down local workers. It will not work and in fact it has hardened their resolve."

But a trust spokesperson said the claims were untrue. They said some agency doctors and nurses had been brought in to help the hospital cope with the current icy conditions, but added:

"We have not employed any non-clinical staff to cover Sodexo duties."

The strike ends at midnight tonight (Wednesday) but for almost two days groups of determined Unison Sodexo members have been gathered outside the hospital and calling on passing drivers to sound their horns in support.

This morning, Unison said some staff had defied the treacherous wintry conditions by walking to the hospital - some more than six miles - to take their places on the picket line.

The conditions have had more effect on the hospital, says the trust, It said the weather prevented many staff and patients from getting in, while a high number of admissions had left few spare beds and some waiting list operations had to be cancelled.

Staff have worked hard to sustain services and many stayed over at the hospital last night to make sure they were available today. The control room set up to ensure continuity during strike action by staff was used as the hub for handling patient and staffing issues.

Trust Chief Executive Jac Kelly said: "Staff have done a fantastic job, battling their way in through some awful road conditions.

"And when they've arrived, they've been straight to work, making sure patients aren't adversely affected either by the weather or by the strike. Some are even staying over. I cannot speak too highly of people's dedication.

The Gazette has contacted Sodexo to shed light on the extra staffing claims and is awaiting a reply.

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