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24-hour strike chaos at hospital

PORTERS, cleaners and transport staff at the Countess of Chester Hospital are staging a 24-hour strike from this morning.

PORTERS, cleaners and transport staff at the Countess of Chester Hospital are staging a 24-hour strike from this morning.

The strike, from 6am, is the first of a series of walk-outs planned at the Liverpool Road unit in the Christmas period.

Union bosses organised the campaign to end what they call the 'large differences in pay and conditions' between staff who transferred from the hospital Trust to contractors and those who have been employed by contractors since the transfer.

Hospital bosses expressed 'disappointment' at the strikes ­- they felt meetings with officials with the Transport & General Worker's Union (TGWU) and contractors Medirest had been going well.

After an offer made by Medirest was rejected at a meeting on Monday a substantially improved package was offered on Wednesday.

The TGWU agreed to recommend suspending the strike action pending talks next week.

But this was rejected by the staff, who will be picketing the main entrance tomorrow.

All parties are now reconsidering their position and a further meeting has been arranged for next week.

A Trust spokesman said: 'We are extremely disappointed with the outcome and that the TGWU would not agree to provide minimal essential cover for areas such as A&E.

'In our experience, this is unprecedented in industrial disputes in the health service. The TGWU has, however, offered to seek volunteers.

'As a consequence, Medirest and Trust managers will provide cover. We reassure all patients that we will endeavour to provide clinical services as normal.

'No other Trust-employed staff are involved in the dispute.'

The TGWU claims workers taken on by previous contractor ISS Mediclean and the current contractor are receiving 'inferior pay and conditions' to transferred staff who do identical jobs.

Porters work alongside each other, doing the same job on the same shift, but some are paid between 60p and £1.20 an hour less than their colleagues.

Some workers get 20 days holidays, others 28 days. Some receive sick pay, others do not.

Mick Cashman, TGWU regional industrial organiser, said: 'Our members are an essential part of the team at the hospital and have worked hard to help it gain its three-out-of-three star rating from the Government.

'Despite this, they have had to suffer blatant discrimination in pay and conditions for almost five years.

'The contractor, we feel, has done nothing to address this unfairness and our members now feel they have no alternative but to take strike action.

'We do not accept that just because a private contractor is running ancillary services at the hospital wages and conditions can be driven down in this way.'

Future strikes of varying length could take place in the coming weeks. Domestic, portering and non-emergency transport services are provided by Medirest under a five-year contract, which has four years left to run.

Trust spokesman Lorna Jones said: 'Our role in the meetings focused on staff accommodation as well as health and safety issues, which fall to us to address rather than Medirest.

'The discussions resulted in us buying specific equipment for our staff who are involved in manual handling, as well as making improvements to the working environment of Medirest staff as a whole.

'Additional hours for portering in the A&E and Xray departments were also approved, in recognition of the intensity of work being experienced by Medirest staff in these areas.'


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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