SCIENTISTS working at coronavirus testing labs will be working to rule in protest against what they say are unfair pay rates.

According to representatives from the Unite union, biomedical scientists working at Chorley and South Ribble Hospital and Royal Preston Hospital are losing around £7,000 a year due to being held back from qualifying for a higher pay band.

The action, which scientists voted for unanimously, is set to begin on December 7 but the union still hopes to enter talks with NHS managers.

Unite regional officer Keith Hudson said: “Our biomedical scientists, who have had years of training and are highly skilled, have voted unanimously for industrial action.

“Because of the Covid-19 crisis, they have decided to work to rule rather than take strike action to make their point without affecting priority samples being analysed, although delays will occur for more routine ones.

“The action will affect late and night shifts as well as weekend working.”

The 14 scientists working at the two trusts say that according to the NHS’ Agenda for Change pay rates they should currently be on a band 6 pay rate due to having worked unsupervised for a number of years but instead have been held back on band 5.

Band 6 pays just under £38,000 a year, while band 5 only pays around £30,000.

Mr Hudson said: “We have a hardline trust management that is not prepared to pay the going rate for the job for essential NHS workers even at a time of national emergency.

“This issue has been dragging on for over a year. At the start of the pandemic earlier this year, our members, as an act of good faith, put this dispute on the backburner.

“When the number of infections dropped in the summer, we raised this issue again, but have been met by a brick wall from a tight-fisted management.

“Our members have been ripped off and short-changed over a long period of time which is not a great advert for this trust.”

The union says that underpaying scientists has seen a number leave the trusts and as such has undermined the fight against coronavirus.

Officials hope that by resolving the dispute with trust managers they will not only secure better pay for scientists but will help bolster the testing process.

Mr Hudson said: “Now is the time for the trust management to do the right thing and pay our members the proper rate for the job.

“We are open for constructive talks at any time to achieve this goal.”