Tens of thousands of people are pressuring the Scottish Government to U-turn on excluding agency nurses and carers from a £500 Covid “thank you” bonus for their work in the pandemic.
More than 42,000 have put their name to a petition, started by agency H1 Healthcare, to have the decision overturned.
Backers include representatives of big providers such as Care UK and trade bodies including the Recruitment and Employment Confederation.
In November, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the health and care worker bonus – but it wasn’t until just before Christmas that the exclusion of non-NHS staff came to light.
Last month, head of Aberdeen Nursing Agency, Louise Johnston, blasted the “discrimination” of her staff, who had provided cover at homes in the “daunting” early days of the pandemic when protective personal equipment was scarce.
At that time, Scottish Government sources told The P&J that it would be for private employers “to determine their remuneration and any additions to existing pay which may be appropriate” for staff.
But petition organiser, head of finance at H1 Healthcare, Alan MacKenzie, claims that argument does not bear scrutiny – and neither does the myth that agencies and their staff have been raking in the cash due to coronavirus.
His firm employs around 150 people in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, 60 more in Moray and another 20 in Inverness.
And the company is what is known as a framework agency – meaning it agrees a fair price with the NHS and local authorities for the staff it provides, minimising profits.
This, Mr MacKenzie claims, should be enough to mean his nurses get the £500 Covid thank you – as they are “playing by NHS rules”.
He said: “The NHS specifies exactly how much we can pay our nurses and exactly how much they will pay us for them, which translates to marginal profits.
“Our staff only get 28 days holiday a year while NHS nurses, having gone up the bands, can be up to eight weeks – with quite generous pensions and sick pay.
“Agency nurses are not legally entitled to these benefits.
“The crux is: it should not matter whose name is at the top of your pay slip if a bonus is being given because people have voluntarily exposed themselves to the risks of Covid.”
He said the realisation that NHS staff who had not stepped foot in a hospital during the pandemic would be entitled to the bonus, while his nurses were not, was the “final straw”.
The guidance means his home carer staff will stand to benefit, while around 180 employed as nurses will not.
“I have the invidious problem of telling around 60% that although they some were actually in NHS hospitals or homes with Covid patients – some of whom sadly lost their lives – they are not getting squat,” he said.
“It’s wrong – and expecting us to pay our around 180 nursing staff £500 ourselves would be a real hit after trading at a loss due to the pandemic last year.”
But last night, the Scottish Government held the line, as a spokeswoman said: “The pro-rata £500 thank you payment is for NHS and adult social care staff, and over 300,000 people will be eligible for this.
“We are hugely grateful to the efforts over recent months of the many key workers in different sectors across Scotland as they have risen to the challenge of responding to the pandemic.
“For people working for private employers, it would be for their employer to determine their remuneration and any additions to existing pay which may be appropriate for these staff.”