Health chiefs were last night under pressure over claims that construction workers are being “exploited” at a flagship NHS development.
Trade union UCATT will today stage a protest outside the new Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital, in Cramlington, where it says labourers are paying National Insurance contributions twice over.
UCATT has branded the situation at the multi-million pound development “outrageous” while Northumbrian Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said it is “extremely disappointed” and will seek urgent talks with contractors at the site.
Staff at the publicly-funded hospital project are employed via umbrella companies and unions claim they are paying both employee and employer National Insurance contributions, which in some cases amounts to more than 25% of their eligible pay.
The controversy comes after NHS Medical Director Sir Bruce Keogh gave the new hospital his seal of approval in February, describing it as “a glimpse of the future” for healthcare nationwide.
Denis Doody, regional secretary for UCATT, said: “This is an outrageous example of exploitation of construction workers on a publicly-funded project.”
UCATT says the use of umbrella companies to pay construction workers has increased following a change in the law in April. New measures introduced by Government mean agencies and payroll companies must pay workers via PAYE and using umbrella companies means neither the contractor, agency or payroll company is liable for extra costs.
North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon plans to raise the issue in the House of Commons.
She said: “This demonstration highlighted poor working conditions and exploitation at the hospital.
“I gave the union my moral and political support and have written to the chair and chief executive officer of the trust to add my support to the union’s demands. I will also seek to raise the issue in Parliament.”
Mr Doody added: “The demonstration has been arranged as there is a clear case of workers being exploited on this site, which is a publicly-funded project.
“Workers are having money deducted for both employers’ and employees’ national insurance contributions. Their holiday pay is being rolled up in their rate, which means they are unpaid when they take leave.
“This is a start of a campaign which will have a local and regional focus. The problems that workers are facing on this site are not being replicated on many sites throughout the country.”
A Trust spokesman said: “We have been made aware of this demonstration at the site of the new hospital at Cramlington.
“We are extremely disappointed on how this will potentially impact on people working on the site and we will be seeking urgent talks with the contractors to discuss the matter.”