HOSPITAL workers at the centre of a pay row have refused to rule out going on strike – despite a promise that their demands will be met.
NHS Lothian has guaranteed that hundreds of porters, care workers and cleaners employed by a private firm at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary will get the same wage as the health board’s own staff from the end of the month.
But union leaders said they would continue to ballot their members on industrial action until the cash hit bank accounts.
The Evening News revealed on Monday that employees of private firm Cofely – which provides domestic services on behalf of Consort Healthcare, the company that runs the hospital under a private finance initiative – were threatening to walk out in a move that could bring the ERI to its knees.
At the moment the privately employed staff are paid around 25p less per hour than their NHS Lothian counterparts at other hospitals, who get £8.04.
NHS Lothian has now told the News that it had received “confirmation in writing” from Cofely that workers’ pay demands would be met.
Alan Boyter, director of human resources and organisational development at NHS Lothian, wrote: “Given this there will be no need for consideration of any form of industrial action and therefore there will be no disruption to patient services as a consequence of this matter.”
But union leaders today insisted they would continue to ballot their 300 affected members in preparation for a strike until the payment was made.
Michael McGahey, lead facilities representative for Unison’s Lothian branch, said the ballots would only be withdrawn when the wages were paid – alongside promised backdated payments to April 1.
He said: “We will continue to ballot our members and go through the process until the payment is made.
“Once it’s paid, we will withdraw the ballots – there will be no need for it. There will be a further meeting with weekend workers next Saturday. We have taken a show of hands at our meetings, and to date we have met with 200 of our members.
“It has been unanimous in the sense that they are all hacked off and feel they have no other alternative.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw insisted it was crucial for patients that the situation was cleared up promptly.
He said: “It seems like NHS Lothian have made some progress in negotiating with Consort, however perhaps discussions have further yet to go?
“Patients deserve better and all concerned need to get back around the table again urgently to sort this out before the situation escalates needlessly.”
A spokesman for Cofely confirmed its staff would receive a pay rise at the end of the month – including cash backdated to April 1.
He said: “We can again confirm that full payment, backdated to April 1, will be made to employees by the end of the month. This is within the timescale previously agreed with Unison.”