East Kent Hospitals estates staff to take strike action in protest at transfer to new company

QEQM Hospital Photo Chris Constantine

Strike action by estates staff at East Kent Hospitals, including QEQM in Margate, will take place this month in protest at their transfer to a subsidiary company.

Unite union members will take the action between September 24-28, just before 250 NHS estates, procurement and facilities services staff are transferred on October 1 to new social enterprise company 2gether Support Solutions.

East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust (EKHUFT) announced the formation of the new organisation in May. It began trading on August 1.

Cleaning, catering and portering services in East Kent Hospitals,  run by Serco, were the first to transfer with 850 staff. A further 250 NHS staff working in estates, procurement and facilities services within the Trust, are due to move across on October 1. More than 50 estates staff affected by the transfer are members of Unite.

NHS staff will have their NHS terms and conditions of employment protected under TUPE law (Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment)). Any new staff will be on different terms and conditions.

The contract covers cleaning, catering, portering, retail, switchboard and staff accommodation for the Trust.

EKHUFT says transferring services into the NHS wholly-owned company will allow support services to remain in the NHS family and enable the teams currently employed by different organisations to work together more efficiently.

‘Two-tier workforce’

But Unite regional officer for Kent Michael Cott said estates staff view working for 2together as being moved out of the NHS.

He said: “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 Unite is concerned that trusts are forming wholly owned subsidiary companies so they can register for VAT exemption and compete on a level playing field with commercial competitors.

He added: “We urge the trust’s management to sit down with us for constructive talks before this strike action goes ahead, which will inevitably affect the smooth running of these three hospitals

“However, if there is an emergency during the week of industrial action, our members will, of course, respond in a responsible fashion and put patient safety first.”

The industrial action will affect Kent and Canterbury Hospital, Canterbury; Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital, Margate; and William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.

County and district councillor for Thanet, Karen Constantine, said: “I think this is madness. The Trust could take the staff on as ‘direct employees’.  They could maintain their terms and conditions and avoid a two tier workforce.”

Emergency work will be carried out during the strike by Unite members but routine work will be delayed.

‘No disruption’

An EKHUFT spokesperson said: ““We are putting plans in place to ensure there will be no disruption to essential services during the action.

“Routine maintenance work to our buildings will be rescheduled, but all essential work will continue.

“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.

“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 ten years, giving greater certainty to staff.

“850 staff have transferred from the private sector into the NHS company and the lowest paid staff have already had a pay increase to £8 an hour.

“We have confirmed NHS staff who are transferring to 2gether Support Solutions do so on their existing terms and conditions, this includes pay, annual leave and access to the NHS pension scheme.

“We have also agreed that NHS staff transferring into 2gether Support Solutions will receive the NHS three year pay deal, and we have committed to future Agenda for Change pay agreements for NHS staff that transfer.

“Savings the company makes will be invested in frontline clinical services, the social enterprise and its staff.

“From the beginning of the process, the Trust has engaged with Unite and staff, in a transparent and accountable process and we have always maintained that it has been integral to the Trust’s plans that the Estates department would form part of 2gether.”

4 Comments

  1. This all about selling off, and breaking up the NHS! We should all stand shoulder to shoulder with these dedicated staff, and protest with them! Its all about Tory dogma, does anyone remember voting for the NHS to be broken up and sold off? No one did, so remember this at the next General election!

    • I agree with Dennis. This is a blatant attempt to sell off yet more of the NHS. Just because the “private” company will be “owned ” by the NHS is a deliberate confusion. It allows them to employ people on lower pay and conditions while claiming that no get-rich-quick businessman is involved (this time!) But just creating this separate company, with all the extra admin staff a new body needs, means they could decide to sell it off to the City of London vultures at some future point. Dirty, underhand tricks to slowly whittle away the Services that we, the public, own so that we will eventually own nothing of our own country except our clothing (made in China) and some furniture (made in Scandinavia). Meanwhile, the country will, in fact, be owned by a small number of oligarchs. So much for Tory “patriotism ” and “taking back control after Brexit”!

  2. I totally agree. TUPE happened to me at the QEQM whilst working within sterile services including Canterbury and ashford sites. Was a total mess and still is, with two pay bands doing the same roll. All that happens after the 3 years is that the management try there best to rid all the NHS folks from there jobs and re- band job descriptions in order to pay less for the same skills. Looks like a sell off to me within 5 years for sure. It’s about time folk stood up to the establishment and sacked the Management

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