HUNDREDS of hospital workers have threatened to walk out in a pay row which could bring the ERI to its knees.
Vital porters, cleaners and care workers, who are employed by private firm Cofely are demanding a pay rise to bring their hourly wage in line with NHS Lothian staff who do the same job at other hospitals.
The private finance initiative contract for the construction and running of the ERI entitles Consort Healthcare to run domestic services, which are provided by Cofely.
But the privately-employed staff – who are integral to the running of the hospital – are paid around 25p less per hour than their NHS Lothian counterparts, according to union bosses.
Michael McGahey, lead facilities representative for Unison’s Lothian branch, said: “Potentially this could take 900 beds out of the system as there would be no domestics or other facilities staff.
“They will need to sit down with NHS Lothian if this goes ahead as there will be issues around patient care.”
We will be going ahead with balloting staff as these promises have been made beforeMichael McGahey
Unison will begin balloting nearly 300 affected members today over possible industrial action – despite an 11th-hour promise from Cofely to raise the wages to £8.04 per hour by the end of the month.
Mr McGahey said: “We will be going ahead with balloting staff as these promises have been made before and not delivered on.
“If Cofely does pay the money to members on July 31 then we won’t need to proceed with the [result of the] ballot. But if not, the branch will take this forward to congress [which has the final say on industrial action], where I have been advised it will be successful.”
Serious concerns have been raised over the potential strike, which could lead to “major disruption” at the ERI.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “The health board and Consort have not had their problems to seek at this hospital over the years. Now a stage has been reached where another stand-off could lead to major disruption for patients.
“They have to get round the table and sort this out – the people of the Lothians who rely heavily on its biggest hospital deserve much better than this.”
The health board has pledged to keep a close on the situation to ensure that patients are not affected by industrial action.
Alan Boyter, director of human resources and organisational development at NHS Lothian, said: “We would expect Cofely to work in partnership with Unison to resolve any disagreements to avoid any potential for patient services to be disrupted through industrial action.
“We will pay close attention over the next few weeks to make sure that any disagreements are resolved.”
A spokesman for Cofely said its staff would get a pay rise by the end of the month.
He added: “We can confirm it is still our intention to make the relevant agreed payments in line with the timescales previously accepted by Unison.”