HOSPITAL bosses and the firms providing non-clinical services at Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary have a “moral obligation” to solve a long-running pay dispute, says Cumbria County Council Leader Stewart Young.

Unions say that it is now more than a decade since the workers - more than 150 porters, cleaners, switchboard and catering staff - were promised enhanced pay rates for unsocial hours.

Yet those higher rates for working nights and weekends were never paid.

The two unions involved - Unison and GMB - insist there is no good reason for withholding the payments. The workers affected have already staged two days of strike action.

They are planning a further 48-hour strike, starting on Friday, March 26. Meanwhile, Mitie, the facilities firm involved, HMC, (the PFI firm involved) and the NHS trust which runs medical services can not agree on whether pay funding was provided.

Cumbria County Council Leader Stewart Young said that he had closely followed the dispute.

“I was saddened to see it result in strike action, with the potential for further strike action in the coming weeks,” said Mr Young.

“These switchboard workers, cleaners, catering staff and porters are the lowest paid at the hospital; yet they are a vital component of its operation, as they have demonstrated throughout this pandemic.

“When the public took to their doorsteps to clap for NHS workers, it was as much for them as it was for the doctors and nurses; and I believe there is a moral obligation on the Trust, HMC and Mitie to resolve this issue.

“All staff working 24/7 at the Cumberland Infirmary are deserving of equitable unsocial hours rates of pay, and I join the call in asking for resolution before further strike action is required.”

Unison’s North West regional organiser David Atkinson welcomed Mr Young’s comments.

He said: “Ultimately, the ‘substantial sum’ purportedly handed over by the Trust to HMC is taxpayers’ money.

“Local people have a right to know what has happened to this money and it is only right that the Trust, HMC and Mitie are subject to political scrutiny over this issue.

“This group of health workers are determined to secure fair treatment after what they have been through this year.

“They are set to strike again later this month, but all of this could be avoided if we received a written guarantee that they will receive unsocial hours payments going forward.”

In a statement, North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust said: “We encourage Mitie to resolve this dispute and along with the PFI company, HMC, the Trust continues to engage with them for this to be achieved.

"Mitie’s plans to maintain services for the patients and public will be our key priority and we will work closely with Mitie’s local team to ensure arrangements are in place to sustain safe services if further action takes place.”

Previously, Mitie, which took over facilities management at the hospital last year from Interserve, said it was focused on ensuring the hospital is supported.

It says that its pay rates for the staff involved in the dispute are "in line with" the existing commercial contract.