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.
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.
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.”