Strike action looming closer at Barnstaple hospital

STAFF at North Devon District Hospital are looking increasingly likely to strike over pay and conditions after union members voted today (Thursday) to reject an offer from management. The result of a postal strike ballot of the 200-plus Sodexo staff who c

STAFF at North Devon District Hospital are looking increasingly likely to strike over pay and conditions after union members voted today (Thursday) to reject an offer from management.

The result of a postal strike ballot of the 200-plus Sodexo staff who carry out the cleaning, catering, housekeeping and portering at Barnstaple hospital will be announced on December 21.

Their union representatives from UNISON met with Sodexo and North Devon Healthcare Trust management yesterday to try and resolve the dispute.

The union says the low paid staff are still not receiving the same sickness and holiday rates as those employed by the trust, despite a national agreement from October 2006 designed to level the playing field.


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In fact they do not receive any sick pay at all, apart from the minimum statutory sick pay, which does not come into effect until after a number of days have elapsed.

UNISON says North Devon is one of the last areas not to adopt the measures and is calling for the trust to accept the terms and conditions to bring local staff in line with other Sodexo workers in the country as well as their NHS colleagues. It is also calling for the trust to backdate workers' pay and holiday allowance to the 2006 agreement.

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"UNISON offered to stagger the payment due to our members over two financial years but the trust has rejected our compromise offer," said Helen Eccles, UNISON South West Regional Organiser.

"Our members continue to work on low pay, with no sick pay, minimal holidays and less terms that those working alongside them.

"Whilst we are committed to more talks, our members have been out of pocket for over three years. This can't go on."

The union said the trust had offered to pay sick rates from January 1, but at Sodexo not NHS rates. It said there had been a suggestion of a better hourly rate, but at the cost of "efficiency savings," seen as another way of saying job cuts.

There are 274 Sodexo workers, with just over 200 of them union members.

UNISON will be meeting again with trust and Sodexo on December 22, the day after the ballot announcement, in a bid to reach agreement to avoid industrial action.

"We are confident it can be avoided if the trust and Sodexo put a serious offer to us on the 22nd," added Helen Eccles.

If the vote is for strike action UNISON will meet with members to discuss when to proceed, with early January likely to be the date for the first strikes.

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