Biomedical scientists, who have been on the frontline of Covid-19 testing at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS trust, will stop doing night, weekend and late shifts as part of a month-long strike action after ‘bad faith’ by bosses who reneged on an upgrading pay agreement.
Unite the union warned that the impact could mean the accident and emergency department at the Royal Blackburn Hospital will close at night and weekends.
Unite said that its 21 members working for East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust were owed back pay of between several hundred pounds to £8,000, as managers had failed to honour an agreement to upgrade them from band 5 to band 6 on the Agenda for Change (AfC) scale. The back pay issue goes back as far as 2010 for some members.
Now the biomedical scientists, who analyse patient blood samples at the Royal Blackburn Hospital and the Burnley General Teaching Hospital will strike continuously from Friday 7 May until Friday 4 June, after they voted by a majority of 85 per cent for strike action.
This will mean that they will only work on their core days – Monday to Friday from 08:45 to 17:00 and early shifts on core days (Monday to Friday) from 07:00 to 15:00.
They are also contracted to work night, weekend and late shifts – but they will be striking during those times.
Unite said that it negotiated an agreement at the end of 2019 for the uplift with the trust management in a bid to tackle the retention crisis which has seen underpaid biomedical scientists voting with their feet and moving to other trusts in the north west that pay the correct AfC pay rate.
Unite said that after the upgrade was agreed with the trust it was then put ‘on hold’ as an act of goodwill during the worst of the pandemic – but now the management was refusing to honour the deal and pay the difference between bands 5 and 6.
This amounts from several hundred pounds up to £8,000, depending on an individual’s circumstances. Band 6 is about £38,000-a-year and is for working unsupervised for a number of years. Band 5 pays about £30,000.
Unite regional officer Keith Hutson said: “Our biomedical scientists, who have had years of training and are highly skilled, have voted overwhelmingly for strike action which will adversely impact on how quickly patients’ samples can be analysed.
“It may mean that the accident and emergency department at the Royal Blackburn Hospital will have to close at night and weekends and ambulances with patients sent to other hospitals across the region, as there will be no one on duty to analyse samples. (Burnley General Teaching Hospital does not have an A&E department).
“The trust management has behaved with ‘bad faith’ in not honouring the agreement it made with our members at the end of 2019 to upgrade them as a means to tackle the recruitment and retention crisis that is affecting the profession.
“We are not prepared to see our members forego back pay which, in some cases, amounts up to £8,000 – this being the difference between band 5 and 6. For some of our members this issue has been a running sore since 2010.
“Now is the time for the trust management to do the right thing before strike action starts – Unite’s door is open for constructive talks at any time.”