HCA pay campaign: More strikes and one new deal

Healthcare assistants (HCAs) have gone back on strike at one trust in the North West of England today, while a victory has been secured at another trust, as a campaign for fair pay continues.

HCAs at Warrington and Halton Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust once again walked out today to demand backpay for, they said, years of working above their pay grade.

“We’ve been working so hard for low pay for years”

Leighton Hospital HCA

Meanwhile, strikes over the same issue at Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust were cancelled after an offer of up-banding and full backpay was agreed.

A national campaign, being run by public sector union Unison, has led to a recent flurry of industrial action in the North West.

It is calling for HCAs to be up-banded from Agenda for Change band 2 to 3 and to receive backpay to April 2018.

The campaign was started earlier this year in response to reports band 2 support staff, such as HCAs, were performing procedures such as electrocardiograms (ECGs), aiding nurses with clinical duties, and undertaking work above that which a worker on such banding should under Agenda for Change guidance.

At all trusts Unison has petitioned, up-banding – which is worth up to almost £2,000 extra per year – was agreed on and at several, the full demands for backpay were met without strikes.

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At three of them, however, HCAs and other clinical support staff have walked out over trusts not agreeing on backpay.

HCAs at Warrington and Halton, Mid Cheshire, and Wirral University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust all called strikes over the past few months, starting with Wirral in August.

At a picket line at Halton Hospital today, two HCAs, named only as Mel and Gail, said via Unison that they were “not asking for anything we’re not entitled to”.

They added: “[We are striking] just to be paid for the work that we’ve done.”

A five-day long strike, starting 7am on Monday (23 October), at the Wirral University trust is due to take place next week.

HCA strikes: the story so far

Meanwhile, at Mid Cheshire, a breakthrough has happened for Unison and the HCAs.

The healthcare staff were due to strike for 75 hours this week but, the union announced, trust leadership and Unison have reached an agreement-in-principle for up-banding, and backpay to 1 April 2018 for all staff who have performed clinical duties in that time.

An HCA at Mid Cheshire’s Leighton Hospital, named only as Sue, said: “Getting a pay rise and fair back pay is a big deal for us.

“We’ve been working so hard for low pay for years. It’s a huge relief that our trust is finally recognising our efforts, we just wanted to get paid fairly for the work we do.

“We’re so happy that the trust has made this offer, and we can get back to doing what we love and looking after our patients.”

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Unison North West regional organiser David McKnight said the union was “pleased” with the deal reached with Mid Cheshire, but that the neighbouring disputes meant the dispute in the region was not over.

“[HCAs] have been working above their pay band for far too long,” he said.

“We’re glad that [Mid Cheshire] has averted strike action by recognising this and entering discussions to achieve a fair settlement to compensate for years of exploitation.

“These workers, mainly low-paid women, have been really hit by the cost-of-living crisis while being grossly underpaid by their employer.

“Backdating pay to April 2018 will have a huge beneficial impact on theirs and their families’ lives.”

Mr McKnight said Wirral and Warrington and Halton trusts should “follow the lead” of Mid Cheshire and the seven others which had agreed to Unison’s demands in full.

He added: “It’s an outrage that NHS trusts have been ripping-off their lowest paid for so many years. We’re very glad that Mid Cheshire has joined other trusts in doing the right thing.”

Warrington and Halton and Wirral University trusts have been contacted for comment.

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