The company providing security at the Royal Berkshire Hospital has been branded “a disgrace” by councillors who have urged it to pay staff properly.

A group of 20 security staff at the hospital, who are employed by Kingdom Services Group, have been taking strike action since mid-December.

Security staff currently earn £9.12 an hour (£10.18 for supervisors) and are seeking an increase to £12 an hour (£13 for supervisors)

The Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (ACAS), a non-departmental public body of the Government, has sought to bring the parties together to end the dispute but has been unable to help find a resolution.

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Meanwhile, the council is pushing for a “just resolution” and passed a motion Tuesday’s Full Council meeting, calling for security staff to be paid fairly by Kingdom and for the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust to use its influence and to considering bringing the contract in-house when it ends later this year.

Councillor Graeme Hoskin, lead member for Health at RBC, said staff have been “treated very poorly” by Kingdom and the ACAS talks “are not progressing as we would have hoped”.

He said he has been a senior shop steward and gone on strike and it is only something staff do in “very extreme circumstances”.

Cllr Hoskin asked for unanimous support to send a strong message to Kingdom and the Royal Berks NHS Trust but Conservative councillors voted against the motion.

Tory councillor Simon Robinson called the situation “deplorable, said Kingdom staff are “subject to exploitation”, and said the company “should do the right thing”.

Security staff outside RBH

Security staff outside RBH

He said he supports everything in the motion except directly approaching Kingdom, as this “could be seen as unwarranted interference”.

A request from Conservative councillors to remove the part of the motion asking the leader of the council to write to Kingdom was rejected by councillors from the other parties.

Cllr Sarah Hacker said: “If you are not on the side of the workers you are not on the side of Reading.”

Councillor Jason Brock, leader of RBC, said the amendment is “one of the most surreal he has ever come across” and “nonsensical”.

A member of the Conservative group had asked him to lobby another employer recently, Cllr Brock added, so he did not understand the position.

Clllr Brock also said “when we see an injustice in the world it is incumbent on us to use the levers available to us” and accused the Conservatives of using it as an excuse to vote against the entire motion.

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The motion was backed by councillors from all other parties, with Green councillor Rob White saying the work should never have been outsourced and Lib Dem councillor Ricky Duveen calling Kingdom “despicable”.

Meanwhile, Labour councillor Paul Gittings called Kingdom a “disgrace” and said the security staff on strike are “all completely dedicated to their jobs, highly skilled and have a brilliant rapport with staff and patients”.

And another Labour councillor, Rachel Eden, said the pay currently on offer is damaging to the dignity and health and safety of the team.

Hugh Grant with Rachel Eden

Hugh Grant with Rachel Eden

A spokesman Kingdom Services Group said back in December: “Discussions have been ongoing regarding incremental pay rises for several months.

“The decision to proceed with strike action whilst those discussions continue does not seem to benefit the hard working staff at the hospital.

“The entire country is united in an effort to stop the spread of Covid-19. At a time when we are negotiating for improved terms for our staff, the financial position of the country cannot be ignored, including the pay freeze on some public sector workers.

“The focus of our directors remains on continuing purposeful dialogue and achieving a positive resolution.

“At the same time, our operational and people teams are working hard to cooperate with the Union and ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of all staff and hospital patrons.”