HOSPITAL cleaners have taken a step closer to going on strike.

At a Broadgreen meeting on Saturday night, members of the GMB union backed proposals to go on strike "if necessary" following concernes over staffing levels and holiday entitlements.

The unanimous vote for strike action would need to be backed up by an official ballot.

Union chiefs say that strike action is unlikely to be imminent – but that the threat of strike will inform discussions with the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, local managers and Serco, who it is hoped will take over the hospital cleaning contract from collapsed firm Carillion.

Workers at the hospital are unhappy over what they say are insufficient staff numbers to cover “floating” shifts at the hospital.

It has left them unable to book week-long blocks of holiday, they claim. It is said that managers have told staff to leave work several hours early, claiming the unworked hours as annual leave.

At a heated meeting, GMB branch secretary Andy Newman told the Carillion hospital workers that they had played a part in the downfall of super-contractor Carillion on Monday – following a previous strike in 2012 over “bullying” by managers at GWH.

Before Carillion went into liquidation, the firm were planning to sell their facilities contracts at GWH to rivals Serco. While it is hoped that the deal will go ahead, an agreement is yet to be reached – union bosses told cleaning staff on Saturday.

GMB’s Andy Newman said he had met with senior executives at GWH on Thursday.

He said of that meeting: “The first thing they said was that they want the GMB to know how much the NHS respects you. That the NHS thinks you do a fantastic job. They don’t like the way Carillion treats you.

“But they’ve also said that now might not be the best time [to strike], because they want Serco to take over. They believe that Serco is a better company to deal with than Carillion. We think that the Serco take over will allow the other problems to be sorted out.

“You know you can go on strike at that hospital and you can win. I don’t think we need you to. Sometimes you’ve voted to go on strike action, but you haven’t needed to.”

Citing the meeting with GWH executives, he added: “The threat of the strike has already brought victory.”

But comparing industrial talks to a game of poker, he asked union members to vote in favour of strike action in order to strengthen GMB’s hand.

Mr Newman said: “If we all stick together, we win. The local managers – they change or they go.”

He plans to meet with GWH executives in a fortnight’s time to establish what progress has been made on the Serco contract: “Oonagh Fitzgerald [HR director] and Nerissa Vaughan [chief executive] are going to write to the local Carillion managers and say, ‘Everything’s going to change. Everything’s got to change. And you have to work with the GMB.’”

GMB’s shop steward Paulo Fernandes told the meeting: “We are ready to go on strike.”

GWH said they were “disappointed” to learn of potential industrial action.

Oonagh Fitzgerald, director of human resources, said: “Our main focus is always our patients so, whatever the final outcome, we will have plans in place to help keep disruption at GWH to an absolute minimum.

“We will continue to follow the conversations closely and hope both sides can reach a resolution without the need for strike.”