WORKFORCE: A facilities management firm working at an NHS hospital is being investigated over allegations it brought in agency workers to cover for striking staff members.

Since January housekeeping staff at Great Western Hospitals Foundation Trust in Swindon have staged 18 days of walk-outs in a dispute with their employer, Carillion. They claim some supervisors were seeking bribes in return for granting overtime or extended leave.

The GMB union alleges that during a number of the strikes Carillion brought in staff from subsidiary SkyBlue in contravention of the conduct of employment agencies and employment business regulations 2003. The union has complained to the Employment Agency Standards inspectorate, which is investigating.

Around 150 staff were set to walk out again on Tuesday in protest at how long Carillion was taking to resolve the situation.

Carillion, which is Great Western’s private finance partner, said its investigation was ongoing. But it confirmed some staff had admitted offering gifts or cash in return for advantage. It promised to take action against anyone proved to have been involved in bribery.

A spokeswoman said the company had “long engaged” casual staff through SkyBlue, but “nobody has been recruited as a result of strike action”.

A large proportion of the workforce is from the Indian state of Goa and so often seek extended periods of leave to go back and visit family.

HSJ understands the alleged bribes included gold jewellery, cigarettes, cash and, in one case, a duvet from Argos.