STRIKE action is being threatened among workers who look after some of the most vulnerable people in South Tyneside.
Unison, the public sector trade union, has announced it is to make legal claims and ballot members for possible industrial action in response to being derecognised by Manchester-based Creative Support Ltd.
It comes after the private healthcare company was brought in to take over the running of Woodside Close Learning Disabilities Service in Jarrow.
The switch – from previous provider, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust – only came into force last week.
The service comprises of six bungalows, where residents with complex needs are assisted to live with the support of 30 full and part-time staff.
After taking over the contract, workers were transferred from the health trust to Creative Support Ltd, which then announced it would not recognise the trade union.
John McDade, Unison regional organiser, said: “In addition to instructing our lawyers to make legal claims to enforce our rights, we are considering balloting our members for industrial action as they feel very strongly about this situation.”
Unison, which represents all 30 staff in Jarrow, is concerned that the company has a “hidden agenda” to make staff redundant with no union consultation during the process.
Mr McDade added: “A clear pattern of behaviour is emerging with this company–- they tried to de-recognise Unison in Bradford, they attempted to cut staff wages in Barrow and Kendal.”
The union has raised its “serious concerns” with health commissioners at South Tyneside Council.
Mr McDade said the switch of contractors was “essentially a cost-cutting exercise”.
He added: “The health care trust had enough staff to cover five or six weeks’ annual leave and unplanned sick leave. That’s not how Creative Support Ltd operate.
“They bring in bank staff they call in from other areas, and the bid they made to the council would have been based on the use of less staff.
“Our concern is that the continuity of care will suffer.
“Staff need to build up trust, and that’s difficult when the people see different faces all the time.
“We are also concerned that staff will have their jobs, pay, and terms and conditions eroded by this company.”
A spokeswoman for Creative Support Ltd said: “The company has no comment to make at this stage.”
No one from South Tyneside Council was available for comment.