Trade union Unite has pledge to take legal action against Northampton General Hospital Trust after it locked out pathology staff following a contract dispute.

Unite says it will seek an injunction against the trust for using temporary staff to replace 53 staff it has barred from entering the pathology laboratory since 26 June.

The union has accused the trust of breaching regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations 2003 which says an employer cannot replace an individual taking part in an official industrial dispute with temporary staff.

The trust told HSJ it was “disappointed” in the legal action being taken by Unite and was “considering its response”.

It added: “As a result of the industrial action currently being taken by members of Unite, the trust has been forced to source alternative labour in order to maintain the provision and quality of pathology services within the Trust.

“The industrial action by Unite is in response to the trust’s desire to bring the terms and conditions of pathology staff in line with nationally agreed terms.”

The lock-out began last month after biomedical scientists and support staff refused to sign a new contract which Unite said would see some suffer a £6,000 pay-cut, and leave staff working twice as many night shifts.

Barrie Brown, Unite’s national officer said: “It now seems [the trust] is prepared to flout the law and risk patient safety to achieve this.

“We’re witnessing the first case of union-busting in the NHS, which is why Unite will do all in its power to prevent this intimidation.”

The trust said patients were not being put at risk by the dispute. Its pathology department were processing between 90 and 93 per cent of samples within an hour.

A spokesman said: “The trust is disappointed that Unite have decided to take this legal action and is currently considering its response to the application, but the trust will vigorously defend its right to continue to provide the pathology service via lawful means.

“No one wants to see staff taking action of this nature. However in order to maintain sustainable services for the future, changes to current working arrangements must happen.

“Our patients remain our priority. We would wish to reassure members of the public that we will continue with our contingency plans to ensure they receive the best possible care.”

Talks at ACAS, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, are set to continue this week.