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Strike ‘tipping point’ for NHS ambulance workers pushing for the Agenda for Change

A four-day strike by NHS patient transport workers represents a sticking point over their growing anger at not being on the same pay system as their colleagues, BERNY TORRE reports

NHS ambulance workers are going on strike for four days after reaching a “tipping point” over their trust leadership’s double standards over their pay awards, a GMB rep has said.

Adrian Gavrilita, 32, said the walkouts starting today are over a failure to hand over some £1,300 in back pay at the London Living Wage.

But they also represent a sticking point amid growing frustration over not belonging to the same Agenda For Change (AFC) pay system that covers all NHS staff except doctors, dentists and very senior managers.

Along with cleaners, porters, catheters and other workers in Epsom and St Helier’s NHS Trust’s estates team, he said his colleagues have had to fight separately for their pay and conditions.

“We don’t feel like NHS employees, we feel like the third party working within the NHS,” he told the Morning Star.

“We are glorified NHS but we are not.

“Every single time we have to fight for pay rises that we are owed and I think it’s gone to the tipping point for members.”

Unlike AFC colleagues, his team are also only receiving their at least £1,600 Covid payment at the end of this month, which has added to the financial pressures that members are facing after being told to expect the London Living Wage in October 2023, he said.

They have been paid just £11.95 per hour to transport vulnerable patients on 12-hour shifts.

“You can imagine everything went up and our wages were frozen and everybody relied on that money to go up from October and when it didn’t everybody was shocked,” said Adrian.

“They are furious, they are frustrated, they are disappointed by the lack of commitment that employers have made to them.”

He added: “We feel underappreciated —  we are just the back end of the NHS trust, that we work for.

“Covid was the hardest time  …  on the road, it was quiet but with patients it was intense.

“Especially if you are transporting respiratory failures from ICU to St George’s Hospital for example.

“All we got in the end is a round of applause and that’s it, but as you know, applause doesn’t pay the bills, especially in a cost-of-living crisis.”

This week his team of some 80 patient transport workers voted almost 94 per cent in favour of taking action on a turnout of nearly 80 per cent.

The dispute centres around back pay owed on the London Living Wage, with members owed up to £1,300 in wages, the union said.

Adrian said: “If we were AFC-banded everything would have been avoided.

“The trust always says put the money in first  —  saying they can’t afford to give us Agenda For Change. In other trusts, it seems to work but not for them.

“We had a similar dispute last year but we solved it within a grievance but this time they just kicked the can.”

Trust bosses have said his team will be paid the £13.15 hourly rate from this month, but have been urged to restart talks with the GMB to avoid walkouts today and on May 2,3 and 7.

The dispute began after the trust’s director of estates and facilities wrote to Adrian’s team in June 2023 saying they would be paid the London Living Wage from October 2023, he said.

After that didn’t materialise, and no explanation was forthcoming from bosses, they put in a grievance over the issue earlier this year.

Two months later, they were told the payment would be given only from this April, and they held a second grievance meeting with the managing director and deputy CEO but have proceeded to strike action after not hearing back from them, Adrian said.

“Some members have flagged that they have been using their credit cards on daily shopping rather than relying on normal wages because the energy bills kept going up and up because this year there was no (fuels) subsidy from the government,” he added.

Given the trust’s public response, Adrian isn’t hopeful strikes will be avoided.

“By the looks of it, no,” he said.

“That’s why on the 24th when the clocks strike midnight I think people will just walk off for 24 hours.

“We will see if we are appreciated by the trust then or not.

“It’s the hardest decision because everybody loves the patients but we feel that nobody is listening to us.

“The higher-ups just don’t seem to care.

“We are willing to come to the table with the trust if they are willing to pay the back pay.”

GMB regional organiser Helen O’Connor said: “Our members carry out vital work for the community as they escort patients to life-saving treatments.

“Ambulance staff care deeply about their patients and none of them want to strike.

“But they have been forced into this situation by Epsom and St Helier NHS who are inexplicably withholding wages owed to these staff.

“Any strike action is likely to cause severe disruption to patient appointments and treatments.”

A spokesperson for Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust said: “We pay all permanent staff the London Living Wage and have increased this earlier than the guidance recommends for employers in the capital.

“Everyone in our workforce is important to us and we have also paid our transport teams enhanced pay in recognition of their incredible efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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