Security staff at Southampton General Hospital being attacked in the A&E department is key to an industrial dispute over pay and sickness pay.

Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said its 21 security staff members were being attacked on a regular basis by members of the public either under the influence of drink or drugs, or with mental health problems.

Unite is currently holding a ballot for strike action or industrial action short of a strike of its members, employed by Mitie Security Ltd, at Southampton General Hospital over pay and conditions. The ballot closes on Wednesday 15 March.

Unite said that Mitie Security was refusing to provide adequate personal protection equipment (PPE), such as stab vests and  safety restraints, even though knife-related incidents are increasing.

Unite lead officer for health in the south east Scott Kemp said: “With cuts to the police force and mental health services, there is a tendency for those suffering from various conditions to be dropped off at the hospital and left to the security guards. 

“The statistics are not easily available as to the number of our members who have been injured. There has been a lack of proper investigation into the incidents over a considerable period.

“The guards report incidents that have occurred on every shift, but the bosses at the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and Mitie Security will only investigate when someone is injured.

“Our members are very concerned over incidents occurring right across the Tremona Road site when there has been little or no support from the police who are under pressure because of government cuts.

“Our argument is that we should not have to wait for someone to get injured before a full investigation is instigated.

“That is why the sick pay arrangements are really important. At present, if the security staff are injured at work, and if the resulting investigation finds in their favour, they get two weeks’ full pay and then two weeks’ half-pay. After that, it is the statutory minimum.

“We have members getting beaten up and then having to return to work after two weeks, when they are clearly not fit to, as to drop down to half-pay would mean missing mortgage or rent  payments and significant financial hardship.

“What we want is enhanced sickness payments for those off work due to being injured protecting patients and hospital staff; proper and transparent investigations into all attacks; and our members having the necessary personal protection equipment.

“Our members are seeking six months’ full-pay, followed by six months’ half-pay for all sickness absences. We don’t think those are unreasonable requests, given the level of violence in today’s society generally.”

Unite said that the demand for an increase in pay from the current £8.64 an hour reflected the stress of the job. The security staff are seeking £10.50 for security officers and £12.16 for supervisors, with additional payments of 50p per hour on night rates; £1 an hour on Saturday and double time on Sunday.

Scott Kemp added: “Our members are at the forefront of providing security and a safe environment for staff, patients and visitors – that’s why Mitie’s management needs to get around the table and negotiate constructively.

“There is now a good window of opportunity for such talks before the ballot for strike action closes on 15 March.”

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