The South West Pay Consortium has appointed a leading law firm to advise it on plans to amend staff pay, terms and conditions.
The move is a further sign the group of 20 NHS trusts is not backing down on regional plans to break with the Agenda for Change national pay framework.
Among the changes under consideration by the consortium are increases in working hours, reduction in sick pay, and the end of automatic incremental pay rises.
The consortium, described as a “pay cartel” by unions, has appointed Bevan Brittan LLP to review its plans ahead of the production of a full business case, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2012. The firm is the largest specialist provider of legal services to the public sector.
Julian Hoskins, partner and head of employment at Bevan Brittan, said: “If the proposals on which we are now advising proceed, they could also be the first substantial [split] from the national terms and conditions since they were implemented in 2004.”
The consortium said it had hired the firm because it wanted “fit for purpose” terms and conditions which will allow services to remain sustainable and give greater job security to staff.
Unions have repeatedly said the cartel is undermining national talks with NHS Employers, which negotiates on behalf of NHS trusts and the government.
The union staff-side council has warned, seemly to no avail, that it will walk away from the national talks if members of the consortium do not suspend their action.
A Unison spokesman said: “Discussions are on-going behind the scenes and we still hope that the consortium will put its plans on hold to allow national negotiations to continue.”
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing last week also accused City Hospitals Sunderland Foundation Trust of attempting to break away from Agenda for Change.
The RCN said the trust planned to freeze pay increments for staff that do not receive an annual appraisal or complete certain training modules.