WORKFORCE: Biomedical scientists at Central Manchester University Hospitals are to be balloted for industrial action which their union warns could force the foundation trust to close at night.

The union Unite said today it would ballot its 36 members in Central Manchester’s pathology department in response to the foundation’s “unacceptable” position on changes to their payments for working antisocial hours.

Unite regional officer Keith Hutson said: “If the ballot is successful, our members will work the regular hours of 9.00am to 5.00pm.

“We don’t believe that the hospital could function at night with the biomedical scientists who are not union members. In theory and in practice, the hospital could close down.”

The dispute stems from disagreement about the speed at which the foundation proposes to move pathology staff to new rates for shifts outside normal working hours.

The union says Central Manchester is offering just nine months of “transitional payments”, from 1 October, before moving to the new system – a pace which Mr Hutson said would cause “undue financial hardship”.

“When people have to face something like a 30 per cent cut of their pay, there are some severe financial issues raised for a lot of people,” he said.

The foundation management had begun negotiations offering just three months of transitional payments, which had led some of his members to fear they would not be able to make mortgage payments, he added.

“What we are hoping for is that the fact members will vote on industrial action will make management see sense, and industrial action won’t be necessary,” he said, but he did not expect the foundation to come back with a better offer.

“They have had a very confrontational and bullying attitude in these negotiations,” he said. “Otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”

However, a spokesman for the foundation trust said: “At the last meeting with the staff side representatives, agreement was reached on the offer that was to be put to staff.

“Since that meeting, communications with staff side have been maintained,” he said. “It is therefore surprising that they have now issued a number of misleading statements, and that there appears to have been a change in their position when the outcome of the ballot has yet to be known.”