CARERS in the Highlands could strike over changes to their NHS contracts, a leading union has warned.
The GMB Union has accused NHS Highland of “bullying” care staff into accepting changes to their contract which would see them do five jobs rolled into one and lose more than £1000 per year due to a change in mileage rates.
Home carers were transferred from Highland Council to NHS Highland five years ago but continued to work under local authority terms and conditions but have now been asked to change their contracts and are being called into “intimidating” one-to-one meetings, according to GMB regional officer Liz Gordon.
“We are seeing a lawyer next week and will take this all the way if we need to,” she said. “These changes are going to leave staff out of pocket and we have tried to raise concerns with NHS Highland and have frankly been ignored.
“The job description is a composite of five posts and this will give the employer the right to ask home carers to undertake tasks currently undertaken by others and they will have no right to decline.
“If home carers agree the contract they will be agreeing a loss of terms and we strongly urge members not to do this.
“However, if they decline they will be invited to a one-to-one meeting with management and asked to justify their concerns which is very intimidating.
“I would urge staff to contact the GMB office.”
Ms Gordon said the changes are in breach of the transfer of undertakings protection of employment (Tupe) regulations, which say employees should not end up worse off if jobs are transferred to a new company, and this will form the basis of the legal challenge.
Staff could now be asked to take industrial action, although it may not result in a strike.
Ms Gordon said under council regulations carers receive a milage allowance of 45p per mile up to 10,000 miles per year then 25p per mile thereafter but under the NHS this will be 53p per mile for just the first 3500 miles then 20p per mile thereafter, which could cost someone who drives 10,000 miles £1345 per year.
And this is not uncommon, according to Ms Gordon, even in urban areas.
“Carers regularly exceed 10,000 miles per year and in rural areas such as Skye that is around the average but even in Inverness you would be surprised at how much driving is done,” she said.
“The GMB position is that the NHS has refused to recognise the GMB’s collective bargaining rights, they are bullying and coercing staff into signing away their legal rights and they are breaching Tupe legislation.”
But an NHS Highland spokesman said the contract changes offer re-training opportunities and the one-to-one meetings are an opportunity to listen to staff, not bully them.
“We understood from GMB representatives that there were concerns from some of their members about the new contracts and we have been discussing these within the project redesign group to find appropriate solutions,” he said.
“Far from bullying staff, our intention was to hear directly from them what these concerns were.
“If our staff had concerns this is an opportunity for them to tell us what their concerns were and a one-to-one meeting will be offered, so we can discuss these."