Blood specialists being encouraged to set up as 'businesses' to get around the law
A major hospital could find itself in court over its treatment of core NHS medical staff, in what is thought to be the first time an NHS hospital has faced court proceedings over the use of temporary staff to break a lawful industrial dispute.
Unite, the UK’s largest union, has lodged an injunction with the Administrative Court in London to stop Northampton General Hospital from using staff supplied through an employment business to replace highly skilled biomedical staff.
The union is also seriously concerned that some replacement biomedical staff, supplied by an agency, are being encouraged to set themselves up as 'companies' in a bid to circumvent the law on the use of temporary staff in industrial disputes.
The biomedical scientists have been locked out of work for almost a month for refusing to accept an imposed £6,000 pay cut and a doubling in their night time shift patterns.
The highly qualified professionals are seeking a negotiated solution to the dispute, however they have been blocked in this by the trust managers who walked away from last week’s (Thursday 10 July) conciliation talks at Acas.
The union had sought urgent clarification from the head of pathology, Gus Lusack, over the use of agency workers to cover locked out staff in contravention of Regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations 2003. These regulations forbid the supply of ‘work-seekers provided by an employment business’ to perform the duties of striking staff.
The subsequent response of the trust to the union falls far short of addressing its concerns, leaving Unite no option but to commence legal proceedings.
Barrie Brown, Unite national officer said: “The trust’s aim all along has been to break the morale of its dedicated staff, and now it seems it is also prepared to flout the law and risk patient safety to achieve this.
“Never before in the history of the NHS have staff involved in saving lives been subjected to such a vicious and heavy-handed attack at the hands of their own employer. We’re witnessing the first case of union-busting in the NHS, which is why Unite will do all in its power to prevent this intimidation.
“We now suspect the trust of playing semantics with the letter of the law by encouraging some agency workers to set themselves up as limited companies in a deliberate bid to circumvent Regulation 7.
"We believe this use of agency staff is unlawful. If it is the case that they have had just three weeks training on the hospital’s complex blood testing and transfusion machines, we fear that this is inadequate-and potentially could risk patients’ safety.
“NGH must pull back. Its behaviour has been outrageous, impoverishing and bullying workers and taking little care with patients. We again call on them to abandon this destructive course and work with us on a negotiated solution to this dispute.”
The 78 biomedical scientists and support staff, locked out of the workplace by their NHS employer since 26 June, have until Friday 7 August to sign new contracts, accepting a £6,000 a year cut in pay, or be sacked.
The NGH's biomedical scientists and support staff are the only staff group facing the loss of £6,000 a year under the new deals, a drop of around 15 per cent in their yearly income, and a doubling of their night shift working.
For further information please contact Unite campaigns officer Chantal Chegrinec on 07774 146 777
Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1
Notes to editors:
Under regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations 2003 – it is an offence for an employment business to supply or introduce ‘work seekers’ to a hirer to perform the duties normally performed by a person taking part in official industrial action.
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.