Published: 02/12/2004, Volume II4, No. 5934 Page 11

A union has threatened to take industrial action at a Brighton hospital unless porters are allowed to leave their shirts untucked without fear of disciplinary action.

Managers at contractors ISS Mediclean have told its porters at Royal Sussex County Hospital to dress smartly - and that includes tucking in the polo shirts on their new uniforms.

Two porters have refused to follow the order, saying the shirts are not designed to be tucked in, and hospital steward Mick Malloy of the GMB union has threatened to ballot for strike action if they are disciplined.

'This is the most ridiculous and trivial dispute I have ever been involved in, ' he said. 'I cannot believe that managers are really calling staff into their offices and warning them about not tucking in their shirts.' A spokesman for ISS Mediclean refused to discuss individual cases but said: 'As a company we have introduced a new uniform as part of our continuing policy of improving standards, which has been welcomed by virtually all of our committed staff. Employees are simply required to wear the uniform correctly as part of their job.

'Wearing a uniform correctly has nothing to do with MRSA or any other health issues.' The two porters claim the new rules, introduced along with the new uniforms two months ago, make them sweat more at a time when they are expected to clean up the hospital's wards to defeat the MRSA 'superbug'.

One, Daniel Ede, said: 'Caring for the patients should be the most important matter, not threatening the staff because they choose to wear shirts in the way they have been designed.'