Community nurses at a social enterprise in the North East of England have gone on strike for a third time to demand pay parity with NHS colleagues.
Employed by Lincolnshire-based Care Plus Group (CPG), the nurses are currently staging a two-day walk out which began yesterday.
“It beggars belief that the government and employers would treat nursing staff so shoddily”
The strike has been organised by members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) to demand CPG, which provides NHS services but is independent of it, uplifts nursing staff pay to be in line with those directly employed by the health service on Agenda for Change contracts.
Nurses previously walked out in August and September over the same issue after voting almost unanimously for strike action.
Sarah Dodsworth, RCN regional director for Yorkshire and the Humber, told Nursing Times that a nurse working for CPG was up to £2,000 worse off per year compared to one employed directly by the NHS.
She called on CPG to return to the negotiating table, two months after the first walk out by nurses employed by the social enterprise.
However, Ms Dodsworth said there had been no negotiations promised yet: “We’re having to strike again because there’s been no movement from the employer to pay any more.
“Their services are commissioned by [the] NHS, and other social enterprises have continued to pay NHS terms and conditions and have matched the new pay deal. CPG has not.
“It’s not clear why that’s the case. Maybe it’s because they can’t afford it. Why is that?
“That’s just not fair [for the nurses]. I think an executive team should be held to account in the way they are spending taxpayers money on services but not rewarding nursing staff.”
Ms Dodsworth said the RCN had been invited to speak with CPG’s executive committee, but not for negotiations; the company told her team that the meeting would be to “share their financial position”.
As part of the two-day strike, taking place between the hours of 7am and 10pm on both days, nurses will be marching around Grimsby town centre and congregating at the town hall to raise awareness to the public.
“It just beggars belief that the government and employers would treat nursing staff so shoddily,” added Ms Dodsworth.
“Our members they feel discouraged, disillusioned, exhausted, tired – but they enjoy their jobs.
“It’s really hard to walk [out], but how else can they make their views known?”
As well as the lower pay compared to directly-employed NHS staff, CPG nursing staff were not offered the lump sum ‘Covid-19 bonus’ as part of the national pay deal for the NHS earlier this year, according to Ms Dodsworth.
Nursing, and other healthcare staff, at many other social enterprises or non-NHS organisations which administer NHS services, also missed out.
In some cases, it was due to the organisations being unable to afford the lump sum as the government did not fund it entirely.
Social Enterprise UK, which represents the organisations at a national level, recently announced that it is mounting a legal battle against this decision via a judicial review.
The RCN industrial action in Grimsby is not demanding the lump sum from CPG. However, Ms Dodsworth said it had added to the frustration of the workforce about the pay issue.
A CPG spokesperson said that any increases in pay for its workers “need to be made considering our financial sustainability”, but that it “recognises” the impact on staff that cost-of-living increases have had.
“We continue to strive to offer competitive salaries,” they said.
“We are an independent social business, not part of the NHS, and any pay increases need to be made considering our financial sustainability. We continue to work closely with Social Enterprise UK who are advocating nationally and with government for parity for social enterprises in relation to pay.
“The strikes are affecting a small percentage of nursing provision within CPG and we are working hard to minimise this disruption ensuring safe delivery to patients across these affected times,” the spokesperson added.
“The CPG board are regularly reviewing the financial position and looking at opportunities about future pay in conjunction with our financial sustainability.
“We value all staff and appreciate the roles they deliver in supporting our community, often in difficult circumstances.
“We acknowledge that they are facing unprecedented times in relation to taking strike action and continue to support them throughout.”