Union's legal challenge over Somerset hospital staff's terms

Unions representing staff at a West hospital have lodged a legal challenge against “unilateral” changes to terms and conditions of employment.

The Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust has reduced pay protection arrangements for staff at the town’s Musgrove Park Hospital.

Four unions, representing hundreds of staff, believe the action is a breach of contract. They claim the trust did not negotiate with staff representatives or consult staff about the change despite significant efforts from the unions to engage with management.

But trust bosses dispute this and say the changes are amended versions of earlier proposals, which were the subject of full consultation.

The claim has been lodged by the Royal College of Nursing, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, The Society of Radiographers and UNISON.

Pay protection allows individuals time to adjust to change if they move to a lower-paid job.

At Musgrove, the maximum period of pay protection was four years. That has been cut to 12 months.

In a joint statement, the unions said: “This action will have a long reaching and damaging effect on staff who are down graded due to organisational change.

It has also had a negative impact on partnership working between the Trust and the unions as well as compromised staff confidence in Trust management. Unions are concerned that future decisions will be made in a similar cavalier fashion with no regard for the law and partnership working arrangements.

By taking action we hope to send a strong message to the Trust they cannot ignore the law and principles of partnership working when making decisions affecting staff.”

In a statement, the trust said it considered the change “fair and reasonable” in the present financial climate and the old maximum protection was “no longer defendable.”

The statement continued: “We consulted in April 2010 on proposals to reduce this and following meetings with local and regional staff representatives our original proposals were amended. The pay protection period was set at 12 months for eligible staff from August 2010.

“Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust remains committed to working in partnership with our trade union and staff side colleagues.”

Last month, chief executive Jo Cubbon wrote to the hospital’s 4,000 staff asking them to suggest ways of cutting the wage bill by £3.9 million.

The hospital is half-way through a four year £37 million saving drive and on target to save £10 million this year.

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