ERI strike called off after staff pay deal agreed

Private cleaners were paid less than NHS staff. Picture: Getty
Private cleaners were paid less than NHS staff. Picture: Getty
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HOSPITAL staff have called off strike action after an agreement was reached over a pay row which could have seen the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary brought to its knees.

Cleaners, porters and care workers who are employed by a private firm have finally been granted a pay rise to bring their hourly wage in line with NHS Lothian staff who do the same job at other hospitals.

We are happy to work with [Cofley] over the next few months to make sure to get it right

Michael McGachey

Due to the private finance initiative (PFI) contract behind the construction and running of the ERI, the provider Consort is entitled to run domestic services, which are delivered by Cofely.

Unison was preparing to ballot 300 members over possible industrial action but it called off the action ahead of tomorrow’s deadline after the private firm agreed to meet its demands. Michael McGahey, lead facilities representative for Unison’s Lothian branch, was delighted that a deal had 
been achieved but insisted there was more to be done until workers had equal rights and benefits.

He said: “They have now moved staff to the hourly rate and agreed to paying staff for the unsociable hours, which they have backdated until April 1.

“They have advised staff they will be working with Unison and NHS Lothian to sort out issues of further backdated pay.”

The Cofely staff will be given a 25p raise to £8.04 per hour – in line with porters and estates staff at other NHS Lothian facilities.

They will also be paid for working unsociable hours – like their NHS counterparts – which run from 8pm to 6am daily.

Mr McGahey said: “In light of this we will be making an application to the union to suspend the ballot.

“We are happy to work with them over the next few months to make sure to get it right.”

Concerns were raised that the loss of so many vital staff would create major disruption at the ERI – placing 900 Lothian hospital beds in jeopardy.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “It’s encouraging to hear that this dispute has finally been resolved.”

His thoughts were echoed by the health board, which had pledged to keep a close eye on the situation to ensure that patient care was not compromised.

Alan Boyter, director of human resources and organisational development at NHS Lothian, said: “We are pleased the matter is resolved.”

Cofely welcomed the news but declined to comment further.

There have been calls for an investigation into the private finance initiative behind the £184 million hospital, which was built by Consort in 2002.

The controversial deal means the PFI provider controls matters such as hospital parking, meaning visitors to the ERI have to fork out for tickets when it is free to park in NHS hospitals.