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HCA pay strikes ramp up while one NHS trust backs down

As healthcare assistants (HCAs) continue striking in the North West of England over pay, union organisers have secured a deal at one trust in Cheshire.

HCAs, also known as clinical support workers (CSWs) or nursing assistants at some NHS trusts, have been campaigning nationally to be paid for clinical work they have been performing.

“It will give confidence to Wirral and Warrington that this is deliverable”

Dan Smith

This campaign, run by public sector union Unison, is asking NHS trusts to raise the workers from Agenda for Change Band 2 to Band 3, and to issue backpay dating back to April 2018.

Unison is currently focusing its campaign on the North West of England and, as a result of a collective grievance it lodged at East Cheshire NHS Trust, staff there have been offered a deal which matches these demands from Unison and they will now vote on it. Staff at other trusts have not been as fortunate.

Across this past week, HCAs have been striking at two trusts that have agreed to up-band, but have not met Unison’s backpay demands – Warrington and Halton NHS Foundation Trust and Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

North West Unison organiser Dan Smith said staff at East Cheshire feel “relieved and positive”, and that this is an important precedent for the region.

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“It shows NHS trusts are willing to do right by their staff,” said Mr Smith. “It’s incredibly important, and it will give confidence to Wirral and Warrington that this is deliverable. Members there are resolute.”

East Cheshire’s offer in principle will now be voted on by local Unison members; it is understood it matches all demands made by the union.

Mr Smith continued: “Members are happy the trust has acknowledged the years they’ve been doing these clinical duties.

“It’s nothing more than they deserve, they’ve been going above and beyond not being paid for them for years. Backpay to 2018 is a compromise, many have been doing these duties for five, 10, maybe 15 years, but this is a positive step.”

East Cheshire was the eighth trust in the North West to make an offer in line with Unison’s backpay and up banding demands.

Mr Smith said the deal was worth around £2,000 per year, and that he is optimistic other trusts will now follow suit.

HCAs at Warrington and Halton told Nursing Times, like their counterparts at Wirral, that they felt undervalued and frustrated at being paid for years on wages that did not recognise their clinical duties.

Yesterday, Warrington and Halton staff went on strike for the first time, and they remain on strike today. Clinical support workers at Wirral University walked out on Monday and Wednesday this week.

At both of these trusts, Unison remains in dispute and is attempting to achieve backpay to April 2018, but, currently, trust leadership has declined to meet these demands.

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Warrington and Halton HCA Lee Wooding, speaking from a picket Iine outside Warrington Hospital, said the situation was “frustrating”.

He said: “People are angry and they are undervalued. It does not help with morale, either.

“I’ve only been here a few years, but I know people who have been doing this for a decade. For those people, it must be really frustrating.

“We’re only asking for what we believe we’re owed, it’s thousands of pounds per year and it’s nothing to be sniffed at.”

Mr Wooding said the trust had told staff, via internal communications, that it was willing to put a working group together to look into what deal could be offered to staff.

However, as yet, he said that no improved backpay deal has been made.

Unison is also entering into dispute with a third trust, Mid Cheshire NHS Foundation Trust, where HCA members were balloted on strike action over the same issue.

Mr Smith told Nursing Times the ballot result was 99% in favour of a strike after Mid Cheshire declined to meet backpay demands, though it did agree to up-band many Band 2 HCAs.

Warrington and Halton, Mid Cheshire and Wirral University have been contacted for comment.

Earlier this week, Wirral University Teaching Hospital chief nurse Tracy Fennell said: “We have consistently stated that we want to work in partnership with Unison to reach an agreement on this matter and end the dispute.

“On 7 September 2023 we made a revised offer to Unison, which we believe would provide all staff involved with a fair and speedy resolution to this dispute.

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“The offer included a non-consolidated payment based on length of service, to be paid in November 2023. In addition, the revised offer was made for all clinical support workers, without the requirement for staff to undertake onerous evidence collection and assessment processes.

“Furthermore, we intend to invest in our clinical support worker workforce by creating a significant number of new band 3 posts. We would aim to have this in place by 1 December 2023,” she said.

A Warrington and Halton spokesperson said, at the start of the week, that it was “committed” to up-banding relevant staff, and around 80% of HCAs would be uplifted from band 2 to 3 from 1 October.

“This reflects the different roles required across different parts of the organisation and the individual preferences of our healthcare support workers,” they said.

In term of backpay, the spokesperson said the trust had set up a working group to “explore the issue of retrospective pay banding in the detail it deserves”.

“The group includes healthcare support workers and local trade union representatives and is aiming to establish a fair way to resolve this complex issue as quickly as possible,” they said.

However, they added: “Unfortunately, despite this commitment to work in partnership with trade unions, regional Unison colleagues have decided to pursue strike action.

“Whilst this is regrettable, we will continue to work to find a resolution for our healthcare support workers.”

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