WORKFORCE: A social enterprise spun out of an NHS community services provider is in dispute with its staff after trying to cut unsocial hours and on-call payments.

Care Plus Group – whose website describes it as a social business owned by the staff – is trying to save £800,000 to £1m in 2013-14 and has already made £1.5m in savings since 2011. It hopes to make £500,000 of next year’s savings from changes to terms and conditions.

The North East Lincolnshire group proposed a package of cuts including to unsocial hours enhancements, on call payments, mileage rates, and paternity and leave entitlements.

But the proposals have been opposed by three unions representing 750 staff – Unison, Unite and the Royal College of Nursing – who advised members not to sign a letter accepting the changes. Care Plus Group asked them to do so by yesterday but could not tell HSJ how many had agreed to the changes. Unions say it has given no indication of how it will react if employees refuse to do so.

In negotiations with unions, it has improved some of its proposals – which originally would have nearly halved additional payments for being oncall or working unsocial hours – and has dropped others such as changes to annual level entitlement and paternity pay. 

In a statement, it said: “This is our third year of needing to meet efficiency savings, having successfully achieved targets with no impact to staff for the past two years.  Regretfully we have no option to do this review of terms and conditions; given that staff costs are almost 80 per cent of our cost base.

“Our aim is to maintain quality and standards in services delivered to the public, while safeguarding frontline jobs and future sustainability.”

Unison regional organiser Jim Bell said: “We are not at the stage of contemplating any serious action unless they say they are going to impose this.” He said that, as the business was “owned” by its staff, in theory they could hold a special general meeting and vote the chief executive out of office. However he said, “but we are not near that position”.

Staff who previously worked for the NHS had their pay and conditions protected when the new organisation took over in 2011. Once they are transferred, companies and social enterprises can vary terms and conditions and can take on new staff on new terms. However, Care Plus Group said it did not plan to do this.