Nurses in the North East of England are under threat of dismissal from their roles and re-engagement on contracts with less generous terms and conditions.
North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust has told staff they are to have their sickness enhancements reduced should they take absence during unsocial hours, in a bid to cut the pay bill.
The move, which will affect nearly 5,500 members of staff, including community nurses, has been criticised by the RCN, which branded the exercise 'old fashioned macho personnel style, flying in the face of HR best practice' and trade union Unison, which claims it could undermine patient safety.
Staff at the trust receive 'sickness additional payments' if they are rostered to work but take sickness absence during unsocial hours or on bank holidays. A statement from the trust, claimed 'many' staff agreed it would save a lot of money if these payments were removed.
Its director of HR Clare Curran said: 'As well as having to pay the enhanced rates to staff who are absent we also often have to bring in agency staff to cover these posts and pay those people enhanced rates of pay. Our staff believe we should reward attendance, not absence.'
She said in a bid to save £40 million there would be 'little alternative than cutting posts', adding: 'If the sickness enhancements for this year continue, we will be paying the equivalent of 20 staff nurse posts just to afford it. It doesn't make sense to pay staff unsocial hours enhancements when they haven't worked unsocial hours.'
The trust believes changes will improve staff morale, save money and enable better patient care, avoiding use of agency nurses. But Howard Catton, head of policy at the RCN said if the trust wants to win staff hearts and minds, 'this approach does the complete opposite'.
Christina McAnea, Unison's head of health, said: 'The employers have described it as a consultation, but this can hardly be the case when the only options for staff are to accept the changes or be sacked.'
In September, 1,600 staff working at Taunton and Somerset Foundation Trust signed a petition calling on the board to pull out of the South West Pay, Terms and Conditions Consortium, which aims to introduce changes to existing terms and conditions.