• Three unions have balloted for strike action
  • Trust is still waiting for NHSI to support subsidiary
  • Trust says it will continue to talk to unions

Several hundred support staff at Frimley Health Foundation Trust are expected to strike for 48 hours this month, as controversy continues over its proposed subsidiary company.

The trust wants to set up a wholly-owned subsidiary which would own many of its buildings and employ 950 staff in roles such as catering, cleaning, portering and maintenance.

Trust documents show the move could save it £45m over five years, of which around half would be due to VAT savings. However, the proposal has not yet been approved by NHS Improvement.

Members of three unions — Unison, Unite and GMB — have now voted to take strike action and are expected to walk out for 48 hours, starting at 7am on Monday, 18 November. Members of all three unions who would be affected by the proposals were balloted, with over 90 per cent of those who voted supporting a strike.

Unite regional officer Jesika Parmar said: “Our members have voted overwhelmingly that they have no wish to be employed by a WOS designed to avoid paying tax.

“They are concerned that their pay and employment conditions will be seriously eroded if that happens and that, in turn, will lead to services for patients being adversely affected.”

Ms Parmar also questioned the inclusion of the trust’s buildings in the plans for a subsidiary company, saying they should not be handed over to a “hived off” company.

Christina McAnea, Unison’s assistant general secretary, added: “The trust must now take staff concerns seriously and sit down with Unison to ensure these workers remain directly employed by the NHS.

“Patients rely on good quality cleaning, catering and portering staff who play a vital role in providing excellent care.

“But these hard-working hospital employees are some of the lowest paid in the health service, feel targeted by their employer and don’t deserve to have their NHS employment status ripped away.

“They’ve demonstrated they’ll resist any attempts to privatise their jobs, and the ball is now firmly in the employer’s court to resolve this dispute.”

GMB organiser Asia Allison added she expected “hundreds” of staff to be involved and the union did not want to wait until the subsidiary was approved to take action.

In a statement, the trust said: “We regret this announcement… We have previously written and spoken to affected staff to reassure them their pay and conditions, including pensions and future pay rises, will be guaranteed. We don’t consider this to be privatisation, as the subsidiary will remain wholly owned by Frimley Health and contracted to it for a minimum of 25 years.

“We will continue to talk to all the unions. However, should the strike go ahead, we’ll be doing everything we can to ensure the impact on our patients is minimised.”

The trust has previously said terms and conditions for existing staff will not change but documents presented to the council of governors — which support the setting up of the subsidiary — said new employees might be employed on “competitive market rates”.

The unions have been supported by Labour MP for Slough, Tan Dhesi, and some members of Slough Borough Council.