Burnley biomedical scientists to strike until March amid unpaid wages row

Burnley and Blackburn biomedical scientists have voted to stage a third strike.

Friday, 3rd December 2021, 1:59 pm
The scientists on strike earlier this year

The action will begin on December 15th and ends on March 8th in a dispute over unpaid wages.

The skilled NHS staff at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust claim they are owed on average between £8,000 and £12,000.

Unite has called on the Trust to meet with the union. NHS managers now have a “short window of opportunity” to finally resolve this dispute before Christmas. The Trust only needs to honour the agreement it reached with the workers back in 2019.

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The Trust's chief executive, Mr Martin Hodgson said that resolving the dispute remained a high priority and reiterated that the Trust continued to fully engage with UNITE the Union, the 14 colleagues now involved in future industrial action and the wider group of biomedical scientists who are not taking action, but working incredibly hard to cover and ensure safe and effective services remain in place.

The scientists have already been on strike in two periods this year, between May 31st and July 28th and between August 20th and November 11th.

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 £8000 and £12,000. Unite negotiated a deal for the workers to be paid what they were owed in 2019 but the Trust reneged on the deal.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The Trust now has a short window of opportunity to finally resolve this dispute. We hope management at the Trust can find enough seasonal good will to honour their agreement with the scientists.

“If the strike goes ahead the blame will lie squarely with the Trust. For the patients, for staff and for the taxpayer I urge the Trust’s Chief Executive Martin Hodgson to honour the agreement and end the dispute.”

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.

Responding, Mr Martin Hodgson, said that resolving the dispute in the blood sciences team remained a high priority and reiterated that the Trust continued to fully engage with UNITE the Union, the 14 colleagues now involved in future industrial action and the wider group of biomedical scientists who are not taking action, but working incredibly hard to cover and ensure safe and effective services remain in place. He said the Trust had: "Followed the nationally prescribed process and all relevant NHS policy in its decision; Sought and secured an independent legal position and consulted with regional and national colleagues to review the decision; Consistently engaged with UNITE the Union at all times – both responding to all and any requests and proactively making contact with ways to progress which were often ignored; Continues to offer to meet virtually or physically with colleagues and/or union representatives; Offered to take part in and accept the result of a ‘binding arbitration’ process with an independent third party making a recommendation to resolve the dispute; Review any evidence not already considered

Martin added: “It is simply not true to say that we are refusing to engage. We are actively trying to make progress and often we are ignored. UNITE refuses to go to binding arbitration and new evidence provided has been reviewed. We are, of course, open to discussing how we can resolve and conclude this. I have spoken to and written to both the union and pathology colleagues a number of times, often without acknowledgement or response.

“It is also not true to say we have reneged on an agreement. Colleagues submitted their grievance in May 2019 and when they were rebanded they received back pay to that date. There was never any agreement to provide back pay before then and this is in line with national policy.

“In the meantime I am aware of the impact this is having on the team. We have contingency plans in place to ensure the safe provision of pathology services but the protracted dispute is having a detrimental effect on colleagues, patients and visitors at a time when the Trust is experiencing crippling pressures and demand for services.”