FIVE thousand people have signed a petition in support of the 21 Lancashire biomedical scientists currently on strike in a back-pay dispute.

The Unite union said there had been ‘a fantastic wave of support’ from the community in their bid to get the interim chief executive at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, Martin Hodgson, to meet with Unite and settle the dispute as soon as possible.

The scientists, who have been on strike since May, are owed large amounts of back pay, they claim. That starts at several hundred pounds up to as much as £8,000, after they claim managers failed to honour a 2019 agreement to upgrade their pay.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham, who was on the picket line at the Royal Blackburn Hospital last week, said: “The fact is that the trust has reneged on a promised pay deal for these workers who have served their community, without regard to their own health, throughout the terrible pandemic. Fact. And what do they get from the trust for that loyalty? Broken promises that’s all.

“Unite is not having that. We are going to back these scientists of ours to the hilt. And now it’s clear the local community agrees with that.”

Following the visit from Unite’s general secretary, campaigners are moving from the picket line into the wider community door-knocking and mobilising constituents to lobby their MPs, asking them to write to the interim chief executive urging an immediate settlement. Thousands are rallying behind the biomedical scientists.

Blackburn’s MP Kate Hollern said: “As far as I understand, the funds are there so the trust needs to reach an agreement that is to the satisfaction of the staff. It greatly disappoints me that it has not been possible to bring this to a conclusion before now.”

Mr Hodgson claimed it was Unite who were unwilling to negotiate.

He said: “It is important I highlight the Trust’s responsibility to make sure that public money is used effectively.

“The legal advice we have had is that these colleagues are not legally entitled to any further back pay and this would not be considered to be an appropriate use of funds.

“This would also be the case for any further payments offered by the Trust to resolve this dispute.”