Kent NHS estates staff to strike in row over ‘tax avoiding’ hived-off company

19 September 2018

From Unite

Estates staff at three Kent hospitals will strike for five days later this month over plans to transfer them to a wholly owned subsidiary to avoid paying tax. Unite, the country’s largest union, announced today (Tuesday 11 September) that strike action will run from 00:01 on Monday 24 September until 23:59 on Friday 28 September.

The industrial action will affect Kent and Canterbury Hospital, Canterbury; Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital, Margate; and William Harvey Hospital in Ashford. Unite balloted its more than 50 estates’ members employed by East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust and they voted by 85 per cent for strike action over plans to transfer them to a wholly owned subsidiary called 2together Support Solutions.

Unite, with 100,000 members in the health service, has waged an extensive campaign against these wholly owned subsidiaries as they could lead to job losses and salami slicing of service provision. Unite is concerned that trusts are forming these wholly owned subsidiary companies in England so that they can register for VAT exemption and compete on a level playing field with commercial competitors who register for VAT exemption for their work in the NHS, when NHS trusts can’t.

Unite regional officer Michael Cott said: “We are strongly against the formation of these entities which, we believe, could lead to a Pandora’s Box of Carillion-type meltdowns – with the adverse knock-on effects on patient services and jobs.

“Our members in Kent are very concerned that their hard won terms and conditions will be eroded over time as part of what, we believe, is a continuing drive to privatise NHS services.

“They are worried about their pensions as it has still not been confirmed whether they will staying within the NHS scheme which they have contributed to over many years.

“We fear that such a move will create a two-tier workforce with new staff on inferior conditions and this, in turn, will increase the problems of recruiting and retaining new staff.

“Our members consider that the identity of their employer is a condition of their contract of employment and do not wish that being changed unilaterally, as is proposed in this case.

“They have a strong desire to remain employed by the trust and not to be employed by the 2together Support Solutions subsidiary which has been set up with the purpose to avoid tax.

“We are seeking an undertaking from East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust that it agrees to continue to employ all our members and not transfer them to this new subsidiary with all the negative impacts that will flow from this move.

“We urge the trust’s management to sit down with us for constructive talks before this strike action goes ahead, which will inevitably affect the smooth running of these three hospitals

“However, if there is an emergency during the week of industrial action, our members will, of course, respond in a responsible fashion and put patient safety first.”

The Department of Health and Social Care announced recently that it was consulting on this issue with a view to strengthen ‘central oversight’ of wholly owned subsidiaries by asking all NHS trusts to report to them via NHS Improvement of their intention to set one up.

Recently, two trusts – University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, and the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust – backed down on their plans for a wholly owned subsidiary, following pressure from health unions.

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