• Unite staff supported industrial action in ballot
  • 850 staff already employed by new company
  • Estates and maintenance staff at York Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust also balloted over strike action

Key estates staff at an acute trust are to strike over plans to transfer their jobs into a subsidiary company.

The Unite staff will take action from 24 to 28 September – just before 250 staff at East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust transfer into 2together Support Solutions on 1 October. The subsidiary company already employs 850 staff who were transferred from Serco, which had a contract for cleaning, catering and other services at the trust.

The news comes after the government pledged to tighten the regulation of subsidiary companies and another large trust dropped similar plans.

Unite regional officer for Kent Michael Cott said estates staff viewed working for 2together as being moved out of the NHS. The trust has said the staff it transfers will be on their existing terms and conditions, will receive the NHS Agenda for Change pay deal over the next three years and it has committed to paying future AfC pay deals to this group of staff.

However, Mr Cott pointed out there would be different terms and conditions for new staff, and the staff who transferred from Serco would not be on NHS terms and conditions. “It will create a two-tier workforce and existing staff are concerned that at some point in the future their terms and conditions may change,” he said. His members were also concerned that their right to remain within the NHS pension scheme has not been confirmed by the scheme itself – although the trust says they will have access to it.

More than 50 estates staff affected by the transfer are members of Unite and 85 per cent of those voted to take action. Emergency work will still be carried out during the strike by its members but routine work will be delayed. 

In a statement, the trust said it was putting plans in place to ensure there was no disruption to essential services over the strike period. “Setting up our own NHS wholly owned company, 2gether Support Solutions, which is based in east Kent, employing local people, gives the local NHS direct control and accountability of these important services,” it said. “The trust board has given 2gether Support Solutions a 25 year contract to provide services to the trust which removes the need for the trust to return to the market every seven to 10 years, giving greater certainty to staff.”

It insisted that savings made by the subsidiary company would be reinvested in frontline services, the new company and its staff, and added that the lowest paid staff had already been given a pay rise to £8 an hour.

More than 200 estates and maintenance staff at York Teaching Hospitals FT are also being balloted and could take industrial action over plans to transfer them to a subsidiary company. The staff are all members of Unite, which argues that these companues are being set up to avoid paying VAT. Unite lead officer for health in Yorkshire Chris Daly said they could lead to “a Pandora’s Box of Carillion-type meltdowns.”