HEALTH workers employed by a private firm in Lancashire are voting over whether to take strike action to win the same pay and holiday rates as NHS colleagues, says UNISON.

The 50 employees, including porters, caterers and cleaners, work for healthcare facilities firm OCS at eight NHS sites across the county.

Sites affected are Royal Blackburn Hospital, Daisyfield Mill Clinic and the Mount Clinic in Accrington, Balladen House in Rossendale, the Harbour and Wesham Rehabilitation Units in Blackpool, Preston’s Guild Park Hospital, and Ormskirk and District General Hospital.  

The dispute has been running for some time, but a year ago, OCS workers at hospitals, mental health units and clinics in Blackburn, Blackpool, Ormskirk and Preston, said they wanted to be paid and treated the same as their NHS colleagues.

OCS staff were earning less an hour and get no extra money for night, weekend or bank holiday shifts unlike health employees working directly for the NHS.

If OCS employees fall ill, they also only get statutory sick pay of less than £96 a week.

This means many keep working when unwell because they can’t afford to be off, says UNISON.

Colleagues employed by the NHS receive their full wages when ill.

Pressure from UNISON led to Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust and OCS agreeing last summer to match NHS pay rates, which meant a 69p increase to £10.19 an hour from April 1 for the OCS workers.

But both the employer and trust refused to raise sick pay, annual leave or evening/weekend allowances.

They also would not agree to backdate the wage increase to May 2021 when the workers’ pay complaint was first lodged.

UNISON North West regional organiser Dale Ollier said: “This dispute has never been just about pay. It's about ensuring everyone working in the NHS is treated the same.

“Although OCS workers now earn more an hour, many are still struggling. Backdating the wage increase to last spring would make a real difference to some of the lowest paid workers in Lancashire.

“But more still needs to be done. OCS staff should be paid in full when poorly, receive the same as NHS colleagues for night or weekend work and be allowed to take the same amount of holiday.

“No one wants services to be disrupted. OCS and trust managers need to treat employees doing similar jobs the same, regardless of who they work for.

“Retail, hospitality and online distribution firms are now paying better rates to attract and keep the staff they need. OCS will struggle to hold on to its workers if it continues to treat them so shabbily.

"Failing to resolve the dispute will see staff vacancy rates rise and that will have an impact on patient care.”