• Unison says around 300 workers at St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals and Blackpool Teaching Hospitals are affected
  • Staff are employed by private contractor Medirest, part of Compass Group

Outsourced support staff at two teaching hospitals have begun two days of strike action over their pay rates.

Trade union Unison said around 300 workers based at St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals Trust and Blackpool Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust are paid less than colleagues who are directly employed by the NHS providers.

The cleaners, caterers, porters, receptionists and security staff are employed by private contractor Medirest, which is part of the Compass Group.

Unison said most of the workers are paid the minimum wage of £8.21 an hour, yet work alongside colleagues employed directly by the NHS, where the lowest rate is £9.03 an hour. This equates to around £1,600 a year for a full-time worker.

It said Compass staff are further disadvantaged by receiving no shift bonuses for working weekends and bank holidays, and receive only statutory sick pay.

This second round of action, taking place today and tomorrow, follows a one-day walk out in July. Unison said a planned strike at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital FT was called off after the trust, rather than the company, agreed to fund pay parity with NHS colleagues.

The union said the company made an offer to workers at St Helens and Whiston hospitals to prevent the strike, but this was “overwhelmingly rejected”. There was no offer for the striking cleaners at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, it said.

A Medirest spokeswoman said its pay rates are agreed with its NHS clients and are set out in the contracts. It said it has been working with staff, unions and the trusts since May to try and reach a settlement.

She added: “We made an improved offer to our colleagues at Whiston last week which included a 16 per cent increase in the hourly rate for domestic and catering staff and a 14 per cent increase for security staff and is evidence of our commitment to finding a solution to this dispute.”

Both trusts were contacted for comment.

Lisa Oxbury, Unison’s regional organiser in the North West, said: “Compass still doesn’t seem to understand why staff are on strike. These dedicated NHS workers simply want to be part of the health service team, with fair pay and treatment.

“Our cleaners, caterers, porters, reception and security staff make a huge contribution to the NHS and played a big part in helping St Helens and Knowsley Trust secure its recent ‘outstanding’ Care Quality Commission report. They deserve the NHS rate for the job, enhancements for unsociable hours and a health service sick pay scheme.”