GMB trade union members at Great Western Hospital (GWH) working for Carillion have voted overwhelmingly in a consultative ballot for strike action. There was a 100% yes vote, on a 89% ballot. GMB will now move to a formal strike ballot in the New Year.
The 400 bed Great Western NHS Hospital was one of the first to be built under the Private Finance Initiative at a cost of £148 m with Carillion as the lead contractor. The hospital opened in 2002 to replace the services previously provided at the Princess Margaret Hospital, which had served Swindon since 1959. The facilities at the hospital include an accident and emergency department which sees approximately 50,000 patients per year, an Acute Assessment Unit, an eight bedded Intensive Care Unit, an intermediate care Centre on site, a health and social care education Centre called the academy, and a wide range of wards and clinics, including 400 in-patient beds, serving approximately 300,000 people. Facilities management at the hospital is provided by the private contractor, Carillion.
The GMB alleges that an attempt was made by Carillion to intimidate staff to prevent them from voting in the consultative ballot. GMB branch secretary, Andy Newman says “Carillion wrote to GMB falsely claiming that our ballot was illegal, so we brought in a solicitor, Charlotte Groves from Thompsons to act as a legal observer. We know that Carillion tried to prevent staff from speaking to us, Our members were threatened with dismissal if they came to see us during their working hours, even if they were on their break times. So they had to come and see us before and after their shifts.”
The GMB trade union which represents 150 of Carillion’s 200 strong workforce is proposing industrial action due to allegations of bullying, discrimination and harassment. They have already presented Carillion management with a formal complaint signed by almost 110 staff.
Mr Newman is calling on Carillion to negotiate to prevent a strike. “No one wants a strike in the NHS” he said, “but currently Carillion are refusing to talk to us. Carillion’s attitude is almost inexplicable: its UK support servicing company claims that its bid pipeline has grown 50pc to more than £11bn over the past 12 months, so why it is prepared to jeopardise its reputation by seeking a confrontation to defend a bullying junior supervisor is a mystery.”
The GMB union points out that over 100 staff have now made allegations of bullying against a specific junior supervisor. “Instead of talking to the union to deal with this issue in a mature way, Carillion seem to be hiding behind the formalities of their grievance process, but the trouble is that staff have been too scared to give evidence” said Mr Newman.
GMB wants the NHS trust to intervene, and investigate the claims of bullying. Carole Vallelly GMB organiser, explains: “The relationship between the NHS trust and Carillion is due to the private PFI funding of the hospital, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Carillion are the supplier, and the NHS representing the general public, are the customer.”
Ms Vallelly added “If there is a strike, then Carillion will not be providing the services that the NHS trust is paying for. So the trust does have an interest in resolving the dispute. It is a scandal that Carillion will not talk to the union to try to avert the strike, and the NHS trust should tell Carillion to get their act together”
GMB is disappointed that the NHS trust has not already intervened. Ms Vallelly says “Oonagh Fitzgerald, the director of workforce and education at the GWH NHS Foundation Trust, said that she was sure that Carillion would deal openly and fairly with any complaint, and that it is a question for the contractor, not for the NHS trust.”
GMB believes the NHS Trust’s position is mistaken. “We are keen to avoid a strike, but we have to emphasise that Carillion are not dealing with the issue at all, and are currently refusing to sit down and talk with us. So staff who are being bullied feel they have no alternative other than to consider industrial action. If there is a strike then the hospital’s service to the public will be affected and wards may even close; so the NHS Trust do have a very direct interest in ensuring that substantive negotiations between GMB and Carillion do take place to avoid strike action that none of us want.” Said Ms Vallelly.