Staff at two Dundee hospitals will lose half their weekly wages following their decision to escalate strike action.
NHS Tayside has said it will withhold salary payments from around 120 porters at Ninewells and Royal Victoria in the wake of plans to stage a first 24-hour strike on Friday.
Half-day walkouts have been taking place every Monday and Friday for the past fortnight in a dispute over pay.
That has forced senior managers and staff from other departments to cover porters’ roles within Ninewells and at Kings Cross in a bid to minimise disruption.
Union officials have now decided that the four-hour stoppages should be replaced by full-day industrial action, which NHS Tayside has admitted will have “a direct impact” upon patients.
Porters will walk out at 6.30am on Friday and will not return to providing services at the hospitals until 6.30am the following day.
Thereafter, Unite has formally advised the health board that 24-hour stoppages will take place on certain Fridays and Mondays for “the next few weeks”, interspersed with more four-hour strikes.
NHS Tayside’s response has been to take the “legal step” of withholding salary payments for those involved in the periods of industrial action.
The board’s director of human resources, George Doherty, said the decision had been taken with regret and that all staff had been sent a letter to inform them of the action.
“We recognise that our porters are decent, hard-working people, and withholding salary payments is not a decision we have taken lightly,” he said.
“For the porters involved in this dispute, this means they will lose, on average, almost half of their weekly wage. We understand the difficult financial impact this will have for these staff.
“However, we fundamentally believe that the actions of the local Unite branch in demanding that NHS Tayside pays up to 10 years’ backdated salary for a job that the staff did not do has no justification.”
Unite called the strike in February after failing in a bid to make NHS Tayside bosses pay porters around £6 million in back pay it believes they are due.
The Union claims that an administrative blunder made almost a decade ago has resulted in staff at Ninewells and Royal Victoria being underpaid.
NHS Tayside has categorically denied the claim and its latest letter to staff explains “the facts behind the dispute”.‘Direct impact on patients’NHS Tayside has accepted an escalation in industrial action will impact on patient services at the two hospitals.
During the strike action to date, staff have interspersed walkouts with restricted duties and the latest move by Unite will see more duties on a proscribed list.
The health board has said it is “working on further detailed plans” to mitigate the impact of that action.
It will, however, continue to rely on the generosity of other staff to ensure many of the porters’ responsibilities are fulfilled during the industrial action.
Mr Doherty has urged the porters to call an end to their action and resume carrying out their duties in full.
“Unite has just advised us formally that they are undertaking additional strike action,” he said.
“They are also not going to handle products to or from pharmacy or deliver walking aids to or from physiotherapy at all times from Thursday this week.
“This, again, has a direct impact on patients and their care but we are now working on further detailed plans to ensure these tasks are covered.
“As a board, we remain wholly committed to working in partnership with our trades unions to improve the portering service and give all our staff the potential for better careers and better earnings.”