The GMB union has called a strike ballot of members working for the Sussex Patient Transport Service over unpaid back pay.
The union said that ambulance staff were owed an estimated £45,000 in back pay and unsocial hours payments by the latest sub-contractor Docklands Medical Services.
It also emerged today that Docklands was registered as a company as recently as April by businessman Christopher Arnall.
His other business, Docklands Medical Services (London), went bust last month owing a six-figure sum. The creditors included Revenue and Customs, owed almost £90,000. Trade creditors were owed almost £40,000.
Announcing the strike ballot, GMB regional organiser Gary Palmer said: “This is yet another blow to GMB members who have been treated abysmally since Coperforma took over this ill-fated contract.”
Coperforma took over the patient transport service contract on Friday 1 April from the South East Coast Ambulance Service (Secamb).
The company sub-contracted some of the work to VM Langfords which has gone into administration, leaving staff without jobs, patients at risk and debts of more than £400,000. Bailiffs had seized five of the company’s ambulances shortly before.
Docklands took over the non-emergency ambulance work that had been sub-contracted to VM Langfords on Tuesday 28 June.
According to the GMB, Docklands and Coperforma have repeatedly promised to honour all staff liabilities including outstanding back pay, holiday pay and pension contributions.
But staff are now being told that they may have to wait as long as six months for the pay that they are owed.
The consultative ballot ends on Friday (29 July). Members are being asked what action they are willing to take to ensure that their employer pays staff what they are owed.
Mr Palmer said: “Staff were transferred out of the NHS against their wishes to an inexperienced company who were always going to struggle with the size of the contract.
“Three months later, the staff endured yet more uncertainty as their employer, VM Langfords, became insolvent potentially leaving staff without jobs.
“Workers were then moved again to Docklands Medical Services with the promise that all outstanding pay and pension contributions would be forthcoming.
“Now, only one month on, staff have had yet another slap in the face as promises to settle outstanding pay have come to nothing as Coperforma attempts to draw out paying staff what they are owed.
“Until now, GMB members have been happy to focus on delivering the best service they can, despite the efforts of Coperforma and Langfords to pull the rug from under their feet, ruining what was once a reliable and professional service in Sussex.
“The staff’s patience has now worn thin and GMB members are understandably unwilling to wait for six months to get the money they are owed with the memory of their last employer’s liquidation still fresh in their minds.
“The time has come for GMB members to take action and this ballot must send a clear message from them to Coperforma: We have done right by you throughout this fiasco so do right by us now and pay us what we are owed.”
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