Warwick and Leamington has urged regional NHS bosses to cancel their decision to outsource 150 IT jobs from Warwick and The George Eliot hospital to a private company.
Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western says forcing staff into a transfer which could mean inferior pay and conditions in the future is ‘reminiscent of fire and rehire.’
The South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust (SWFT) has decided to move the IT departments at Warwick and George Eliot Hospitals to a wholly owned subsidiary company.
UNISON claims the move means the terms and conditions staff enjoy while at the NHS can be altered after 12 months at the new company.
And under employment law, staff can lose their job if they do not accept the transfer – with no entitlement to severance pay.
A UNISON consultation indicates more than 81 per cent of staff support industrial action with the objective of preserving the ‘NHS status’ of the workforce.
But negotiations with the SWFT are ongoing.
Mr Western said: “Like UNISON and the staff members who have contacted me, I am concerned to hear that dedicated NHS staff will be transferred to a private company where their future salary, conditions and protections can be threatened.
“It is reminiscent of the ‘fire and rehire’ tactics used by callous business leaders – especially if employees’ and unions’ fears come true.
“It looks as if employees will have no choice but to accept these terms with a very real prospect their pay and conditions will deteriorate further down the line.
“It is not the sort of management we expect from a public body, and certainly not befitting of our NHS.
“I would like guarantees that the SWFT will engage with unions and staff harmoniously with industrial action potentially on the horizon - with all options left on the table.”
UNISON has branded the move ‘backdoor privatisation’ and says the SWFT cannot rule out the commercially attractive sale of the subsidiary company in the future – or the commissioning of its services to other private entities.
The union says the transfer could be a cost cutting exercise seeking VAT exemption - a well-publicised advantage of creating a subsidiary company.
The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (TUPE) regulations mean existing terms will be protected initially, including NHS pensions.
But UNISON West Midlands regional organiser Mike Wilson said: “The transfer creates vulnerabilities for transferred staff.
“The new employer might seek to change terms and conditions, and there might even be future redundancies.
“SWFT says that staff terms and conditions will be protected after transfer but TUPE protections have been weakened by successive Conservative governments and no longer offer the security they once did.
“Even terms and conditions subject to national collective agreement can be renegotiated by the new employer one year after transfer.”
He added that an employer can also seek changes to employees’ contracts if they can be said to be unrelated to the transfer or meet certain criteria – and the more time elapses the easier this is.
A SWFT spokesperson said the transfer will keep staff ‘within the NHS family.’
But an internal Frequently Asked Questions letter to staff seen by Mr Western clearly states they will no longer be part of the NHS.
In response to the question, ‘will I still be part of the NHS’, it states: “No, but you will belong to a wholly owned subsidiary that belongs to SWFT and jointly controlled by SWFT/GEH.”