Scores of non-medical staff at The Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle are considering industrial action after their union accused the company that employs them of breaking a pay agreement.

Porters, cleaners, switchboard and catering staff at the hospital who are employed by the support services company Interserve should get enhanced pay rates for working unsocial hours – including nights and weekends – say officials from the public sector workers’ union Unison.

The extra money was agreed more than a decade ago as part of a radical national agreement on NHS pay known as Agenda for Change. It included enhanced rates – such as time-and-a-half and double time – for working at unsocial times such as weekends or through the night.

But Carlisle-based officials from Unison say that scores of support staff at The Cumberland Infirmary have never been given the payments – and so have missed out on hundreds of thousands of pounds in enhancements.

The union says this ‘failure’ is particularly galling when their members – among the lowest paid at the hospital – on a daily basis put themselves at risk in the frontline of the battle against coronavirus.

The union is now holding a consultative ballot on possible industrial action.

In a letter to Interserve, the union says: “Recently, Unison has lodged a collective grievance with Interserve regarding Unison members not receiving Agenda for Change unsocial hours rates of pay. As you may be aware Unison has been in constant negotiations for over ten years in relation to this issue.

“Interserve has always maintained it will pay Unison members unsocial hours rates when they receive funding from North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Trust (NCIC).”

The letter says that officials at the NHS trust which was part of the private finance initiative deal (PFI) to build the hospital have confirmed that a “substantial sum” to fund enhanced payments was handed over years ago. It was given to the investment firm which owns the hospital, Health Management Carlisle.

The letter adds: “This agreement was reached between the Trust and Healthcare Management Carlisle (HMC). It was not clear as to whether Interserve had received additional funding for unsocial hours payments.

“This was new information and therefore it was decided that we should escalate the dispute and ballot Unison Interserve members... Interserve members are on the lowest pay bands and receive no unsocial enhancement – yet they are expected to risk their lives by coming into work during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, to ensure hygiene standards were maintained.

“Unison is therefore recommending that members vote in favour of industrial action.”

Unison officials were prepared to fight for the funds.

Commenting, David Atkinson, a Carlisle-based regional organiser with Unison, said: “We now know that the money to pay for enhanced unsocial hours rates for our members was handed over to Health Management Carlisle.

“So why has it been withheld?

“Our members have earned this money and they deserve it. They’re the lowest paid at the hospital and every day they are on the frontline doing duties that allow the hospital to function.

“This is a consultative ballot and the indications are that members will overwhelmingly support action.

“The bottom line is that this is public money that was meant to go to the lowest paid workers at that hospital over the last decade and it hasn’t reached them. Where is it?”

The Cumberland News has seen documentary evidence confirming a “substantial sum” was paid to Health Management Carlisle to fund enhanced payments.

A spokesman for Interserve said: “It is Interserve’s policy that we pass on any benefit to our colleagues working in the healthcare sector when we receive the funds to do so.

“We are actively reviewing the unsocial hours payment with those concerned. We are proud of the work our colleagues are carrying out as part of the UK’s response to Covid-19.”

Nobody at Health Management Carlisle was available for comment.