10 per cent of WHSCT staff on zero hours contracts

Altnagelvin Hospital.
Altnagelvin Hospital.

Over a thousand health workers in the Western Trust - 10 per cent of the workforce - are on zero hours contracts, the Sentinel can reveal.

The Trust says the use of the controversial contracts is under review but argues they allow individuals to work the hours they want.

It also says the contracts allow the Trust flexibility to increase its workforce when it needs to.

But Joe McCusker, Regional Organiser for Unison, has called for the complete eradication of the contracts, which, he says, are a cause of anxiety for mostly lower paid workers.

“We are totally opposed to their use by the Western Trust. In terms of the Trust saying that they provide flexibility, what we’re hearing from workers is that they are providing nothing but insecurity,” he said.

Details released by the Trust show there were 1,201 staff with zero hours guaranteed in the year to July 1, 2014.

A breakdown shows 511 of these staff were employed in the community; 240 at Altnagelvin; 176 at the South West Acute Hospital; 118 at the Tyrone and Fermanagh Hospital; and 118 at the Tyrone County Hospital.

There were a further 88 employed across the Gransha site: 45 at Gransha; 32 at Lakeview; and 11 at the Waterside Hospital. The Sentinel has also learned that the vast majority of staff on zero hours contracts are nurses or midwives (559), followed by social workers (404).

However, 175 health workers, who provide “support services/user experiences” are also employed on zero hours contracts. There are also doctors and dentists (38) employed on the flexible contracts, including 27 at Altnagelvin. The remaining 25 staff were employed in ‘Administration and Clerical’ (14) and ‘Professional and Technical’ (11).

Releasing the information, a Western Trust spokesperson stated: “The Trust is reviewing the use of contracts of this nature, however, the ability to be flexible in hours worked allows individuals to work only the hours they wish and the ability to flexibly increase capacity will always be a requirement of Health and Social Care workforce.”

But Mr McCusker said: “We’re calling on the Trust to engage with us and to start a process of eradicating all of these contracts and converting them to proper contracted hours. That will benefit, not only the staff, but the employer as well, because it will provide a stable workforce.”

He added: “The current position is a reflection of poor workforce policy at the Western Trust.”

The Western Trust is a huge organisation and employes approximately 12,000 staff and spends £459 million annually in the delivery of health and social care services across the counties of Londonderry, Tyrone and Fermanagh.

The 1,201 staff on zero hours contracts thus represent 10 per cent of the workforce.

Earlier this year Derry City Council passed a motion that opposing “the increasing inappropriate use of zero hours contracts” generally claiming they “are used to deny working people the right to secure employment, statutory safeguards and basic entitlements.”