NHS staff strike against plans to outsource low-paid workers to arms-length companies

NHS Trusts are setting up private companies in a bid to reduce their VAT bills - but staff fear the new bodies could threaten the future of our NHS.

NHS workers are on strike today over outsourcing, after a Greater Manchester Trust looks set to move nearly 1,000 staff to a private company.

Staff working at three hospitals in the Greater Manchester area are walking out over plans to outsource their jobs to a new company set-up and owned by the NHS Trust.

The move is part of a national trend for NHS bodies to set up private companies, seemingly in order to reduce their tax bill.

Private companies are able to claim back VAT on certain services, to reduce their tax liabilities – creating a ‘perverse incentive’ for NHS Trusts to set up outsourced bodies.

But Unison members at the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust have overwhelmingly voted to reject the plans there, with large majorities in favour of walking out today. Members of the Unite union are also joining the action. 

Nearly 900 NHS staff who work in estates and facilities across the Trust’s three hospitals are threatened by the plan to outsource them to the wholly owned subsidiary company, WWL Solutions.

They are worried that their terms and conditions could be cut – and that new starters will get inferior pay and pensions, with staff fearing they could all ultimately be moved to a private-sector company.

The health workers being transferred tend to be the lowest paid within the NHS, such as porters and cleaners, according to the union.

Joanne McClure has been a domestic service worker in Wigan for twenty years. She said:

“What happens if the new company goes bust? It’s a risk we don’t want to have to take.

“I’ve never been in this situation before and it’s nerve-wracking and stressful to be going on strike.  But we are all determined and staff are being very supportive of one another.

“If we don’t stop this plan what happens next? Other NHS staff might be outsourced next.  We want there to be an NHS in another 70 years and so we are fighting for our jobs and fighting to defend the NHS.”

Amanda Grimes has worked in the Trust for nine years. She said:

“I love working for the NHS. We have won awards for being the cleanest hospital and I am very proud to work here…

“The NHS should provide jobs that are good and secure: we don’t want the next generation of domestics and porters and catering staff in Wigan to have worse pay and conditions than we have.”

Freedom of Information requests by Unison found last month that Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust has spent over £154,000 on consultants to create the WWL Solutions subsidiary – in order to outsource staff. 

A spokesperson for North West Unison, told Left Foot Forward there was ‘phenomenal opposition’ to the plans:

“We want them to withdraw this proposal – it’s been overwhelmingly rejected by their staff. We’ve had three ballots on it – every time we’ve had 70% turnouts or more, with around 80% voting against the Trust’s proposal.

“The Trust have made a mistake in underestimating the strength of feeling against it. There’s nothing in it for the workforce – there’s only risk. They’ll be vulnerable to having their terms and conditions reduced over time

“The next generation of cleaners, porters and domestic workers will be on worse terms than them. These workers love the NHS.

“They need to go back to the drawing board and find another way.”

NHS Trusts across the country are shelling-out huge amounts of money on consultants, with companies advising trusts on the setting up of wholly owned subsidiaries – which staff are then outsourced to.

The amount spent by just 15 Trusts in England on setting up these new ‘sub cos’ is already in excess of £3.2 million, according to the FoI requests.

The battle against these plans is stepping up, with Labour figures such as Lisa Nandy MP joining the picket lines this week.

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

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