NHS staff in the north-west are striking against a decision by Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust to transfer their employment out of the NHS to a new limited company set up by the trust to exploit tax rules.
Estates and facilities, porters, domestic and catering staff – among the lowest-paid in the NHS – are fighting to prevent a forced change that would move them out of NHS structures and protections with no sound guarantee that their conditions will not suffer over time.
In response, the trust has been using staff from other roles and volunteers to do the work of the cleaners – effectively as ‘strike-breakers’ – to the outrage of striking staff and their unions.
But even more extraordinarily senior staff, including the chief executive (CEO), have been trolling the strikers both in emails and on social media.
A May email from the CEO, Andrew Foster, titled ‘Industrial Action Update’ to the trust’s staff made a point of claiming that the Trust had actually been doing better with the stand-ins than with the paid staff:
Foster used A&E as his only example – which may be telling as it would seem likely that if performance in other areas had not gone down, this would have been mentioned too.
A shoddy job?
When staff provided evidence to challenge claims that the volunteers and drafted-in staff were on top of the cleaning of wards, the trust’s Director of Operations and Performance was sceptical:
Her ‘struggle to understand why WWL staff are striking’ is surprising – and the idea was strongly criticised by staff:
Another trust director chirped about what a great time he’d had – and was met with a heavy dose of sarcasm with a razor-tipped point, encapsulating perfectly both the reason for the staff’s determination to fight and how out of touch those they are fighting seem to be:
The SKWAWKBOX wrote to WWL’s chief executive on Monday (emphases added for this article):
Dear Mr Foster,
Please find below some questions regarding the strike action at your trust and the trust’s response to it. I’d be grateful if you or a colleague could provide answers by return.
- Striking staff clearly feel that using volunteers and office/estates staff to do the work of strikers amounts to strike-breaking. I understand that certain minimum actions have to be carried out for patient safety, but you have sent emails to staff, for example your 25 May ‘Industrial Action Update’ where you boasted that the volunteers etc had exceeded the performance of employed workers, or your tweet at 6.51pm 1 July containing a screenshot of A&E performance data.
– Do you consider this an appropriate response to a legitimate industrial action?
– Do you consider the ‘Industrial Action Update’ to be an appropriate message to send to staff, including those involved in the industrial action and your public tweets to be appropriate messages for employees and public?
- In spite of the claims to have exceeded normal performance, staff have alleged publicly that cleaning is not being carried out to the same extent or standard, including on infection wards.
– How does the Trust respond to these serious allegations?
– What training was provided to staff to ensure competence to perform unfamiliar duties?
- Your staff member Mary Fleming has tweeted demonstrating a lack of understanding of the likelihood of variations of the contract under which the staff would be working for the new subsidiary.
– How will the trust/subsidiary protect the staff from such potential future changes now?
– Similarly, future changes to NHS pay and conditions will not automatically be reflected in the subsidiary workers’ contracts. Is the subsidiary guaranteeing to replicate NHS conditions as a minimum?
- In your 25 May update email, you mention a ‘union steward’ who complained about the behaviour of the strikers, but as someone with decades of union involvement I have to say his/her statement doesn’t quite ring true – especially of one who claims to support the strikers’ aims.
– Is the steward in question willing to talk to the SKWAWKBOX? His/her identity can be protected if required, but bona fides would need to be established, of course.
In spite of a reminder that publication was approaching, no answer has been received.
A local activist told the SKWAWKBOX:
The Labour Party supports this strike and Lisa Nandy and Jo Platt MPs have been on the picket lines supporting the striking staff. Jeremy Corbyn has spoken up for them in Parliament and at the London NHS rally on Saturday.
But former Labour MP Neil Turner is a director of this new company set up specifically to take low-paid staff out of the NHS family. Why is he still a member?
There’s a Labour meeting at Whelley Labour club on Thursday evening – he is expected to be there and people will have questions for him.
The SKWAWKBOX has been unable to reach Mr Turner for comment.
The SKWAWKBOX stands in solidarity with the WWL fighting to remain as NHS employees and is sure the vast majority of its readers will too.
WWL CEO was pictured today cutting an NHS ‘birthday’ cake with a volunteer to celebrate the NHS’ 70th anniversary:
Many of his staff could be excused for thinking a better celebration of the NHS and its values would be to keep them in it.
Whatever the trust’s reasons for pursuing a course of action that will disadvantage staff, it’s hard to think of an adequate excuse for trolling those staff by email and on social media for fighting for their jobs – within the NHS.
There have been further troubling aspects of the trust’s behaviour, which will feature on this blog shortly.
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