A three-year dispute at Hillingdon Hospital has ended with an industrial tribunal ruling that 25 Asian domestic and catering staff, sacked for refusing to take cuts in pay and conditions, should be reinstated and paid compensation totalling almost 300,000.

The workers, 24 women and one man, were sacked by Hillingdon Hospital contractor Pall Mall for refusing to accept new contracts which would have left them 35 a week worse off.

They staged a picket outside the hospital in Middlesex from 27 November 1995 until last week when an industrial tribunal ruled they be reinstated on original terms and conditions and paid maximum compensation of more than 11,000 each.

The ruling was claimed as a 'stunning victory' by Unison which backed the legal challenge but withdrew official backing from the dispute last year.

Granada Healthcare Services, who bought the contract from Pall Mall 18 months ago, has six months to comply with the ruling. The company, which has a right to appeal, is considering its position.

'We were surprised by the tribunal's decision for re-engagement,' a Granada statement said. 'Clearly this has serious implications for our existing workforce at Hillingdon as we do not have 20 vacancies and the working patterns of staff have changed over the past two and half years.'

Sacked Unison shop steward Malkiat Bilku was adamant that they should return to work at Hillingdon and not to another hospital. 'This was a victory for the working class against greedy privateers and a message to hospitals involved in private finance initiative deals that people will not be treated like slaves,' she said.

Hillingdon Hospital staff supported the strikers but managers distanced themselves from the dispute. 'The dispute was a matter between the women, their union and the sub-contractors. It is not a matter that the trust can get involved in,' a spokesperson said.