Health unions condemn offer

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The Independent Online
Health unions have condemned a proposed pay offer linked to sickness levels which they claim could put patients at risk.

The Wirral Hospital NHS Trust has offered staff in its two hospitals a 1 per cent pay rise as long as they do not take more than seven uncertificated days off sick a year.

The plan has angered staff. Norman Robinson, branch secretary for the health workers' union Unison, said: "A hospital is not the healthiest place to work to start with ... We have staff shortages and, following reorganisation, far more stress-related illness than I've ever known before ... It's not going to be wise for people to come in feeling under par. It could be dangerous."

Martin Holt, the Royal College of Nursing's lead steward in the negotiations, said: "I've been constantly stopped in the corridors by people saying how ridiculous this [offer] is."

Although the offer has been rejected in principle, a further objection lies in the details. The money would not be paid until 31 March next year backdated to the beginning of this April. This means anyone who has been ill since April immediately forfeits the increase, which comes on top of the national Government-funded 2 per cent rise.

The unions have written to the trust to turn down the offer, and claim members would vote for industrial action if it goes to ballot.

Frank Burns, the Wirral Hospital Trust chief executive, said the overall 3 per cent offer was one of the most generous in the region. "I have no doubt that we will have a robust negotiation and eventually reach a settlement that will be acceptable to all concerned," he said.

In a letter to staff, Graham Hewitt, human resources director at the trust, said the offer was linked to sickness absence rates because the trust had been "concerned" about them for some years. The absences cost the trust more than pounds 2m a year.