Row over unpaid wages at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust could escalate over Christmas

Biomedical scientists at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust will begin voting on whether to stage their third strike in a dispute over unpaid wages.
Burnley General HospitalBurnley General Hospital
Burnley General Hospital

Unite has pledged 'unstinting support' for its members in one of the longest running disputes currently in the UK.

The NHS workers have already been on strike in two periods this year between May 31st and July 28th and between August 20th and November 11th. But the Trust could avoid the prospect of a third strike over the Christmas period if it honours the agreement it reached with the workers back in 2019. The ballot opens today and closes Tuesday November 30th.

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The dispute centres on unpaid wages owed to the scientists by the Trust for the period between 2010 and 2019. The workers have been paid at a band 6 on the NHS Agenda for Change pay scale since 2019. However, at varying stages the workers became eligible to be paid at band 6 since 2010.

The skilled NHS staff are owed on average between £8,000 and £12,000. Unite negotiated a deal for the workers to be paid what they were owed in 2019 but Unite say the Trust reneged on the deal. The 21 biomedical scientists delayed taking industrial action during the height of the pandemic.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: The biomedical scientists at Blackburn and Burnley can be assured that they have their union's unstinting support. The Trust is wasting valuable taxpayers money trying to break a strike all because the Trust broke its word. These highly skilled staff just want what they are owed. It’s time the Trust did the right thing by them.”

Last month the union submitted new detailed evidence to Martin Hodgson the Trust's chief executive which supports the workers' claim. The evidence includes an e-mail from Mr Hodgson from 2019 where he acknowledges that the uplift to band 6 applied to the biomedical scientists.

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Unite regional officer Keith Hutson said: "The Trust's refusal to engage is inexplicable despite the detailed evidence the union submitted last month. The Trust's actions continues to put the speedy and efficient analysis of blood examples at risk while the NHS is under enormous strain. Management could end this dispute in a stroke. It's clear management are putting its own agenda before the needs of patients, staff and the taxpayer."

Martin Hodgson, interim chief executive of East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, said that resolving the dispute was a high priority and reiterated that the Trust continued to engage with Unite and colleagues in the pathology team. He shared the following key points to help capture the history of the dispute so far:

The Trust has followed the nationally prescribed process and all relevant NHS policy in this dispute:

The Trust has sought and secured an independent legal position and consulted with regional and national colleagues on the current status

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The Trust continues to engage and has offered to go to ‘binding arbitration’ which would involve an independent third party reviewing the dispute and making a recommendation about how it is resolved. This would be binding and both the Trust and colleagues involved in industrial action agree to honour the recommendation whatever it states

The Trust offered to review any evidence not already considered as part of the process and this has been done

Martin added: “It is simply not true to say that we are refusing to engage. Not only have we engaged, we have offered specific dates to meet on a number of occasions to which we have had no response. We are actively trying to make progress.

"It is important to note that Unite has refused to go to binding arbitration and new evidence provided has been reviewed. We remain open to discussion with them about how we can resolve and conclude this and I have spoken to and written to both the union and pathology colleagues a number of times, often without acknowledgement or response.

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“In the meantime I am aware of the impact this is having on the pathology team and the Trust as a whole. We have experienced heightened activity from union colleagues on this matter and they have been on Trust premises and other sites in recent months.

"This has had a detrimental impact on colleagues, patients and visitors and has included incidents where people have been obstructed and, on occasion, inappropriate language and behaviour has been observed. This doesn’t help and at a time when the Trust is experiencing crippling pressures and demand for services, it is distracting from our aim of providing safe, personal and effective care to everyone.”

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