Coffee row - Sheffield workers sacked

Rob Seymour and Phil Lee who were sacked from their portering jobs at the Jessop maternity wing
Rob Seymour and Phil Lee who were sacked from their portering jobs at the Jessop maternity wing
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A GROUP of porters at Sheffield’s maternity hospital have been sacked – claiming bosses accused them of stealing cups of coffee from the canteen during working hours.

The four porters say they have been dismissed for accepting free drinks which they thought were offered as a kind gesture by staff in the Royal Hallamshire Hospital’s café, and for ‘misappropriating time’ by not returning to their lodge between jobs.

One of the porters, 59-year-old Rob Seymour, has expressed outrage at their bosses’ decision, while his colleague Phil Lee, aged 42, said he ‘couldn’t believe’ he had lost his job after a review of CCTV footage caught him sipping just three coffees in the canteen.

“I’m disgusted,” said Mr Lee, from Hillsborough. “It’s just mind-blowing, I’ve never been sacked from a job in my life. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”

But Kevin O’Regan, hotel services director at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said the porters had been dismissed for gross misconduct following disciplinary proceedings.

“A number of serious allegations were made regarding these employees and therefore a full investigation was carried out to determine the facts,” he said.

“Due to the outcome of this investigation disciplinary action was necessary and the employees were dismissed for reasons of gross misconduct. In accordance with policy the individuals have the right to appeal.”

Mr Seymour, a married dad-of-three who lives in Stocksbridge, said he started work on the Jessop Wing in May 2006, after being made redundant from his job at the Outokumpu steelworks.

“From day one I was told we could have coffees in the canteen,” he said.

“When I started, I asked where we got drinks from and I was told if we went in the canteen, the ladies there would give us a drink. It was happening then and I just thought it was the norm.
“It came as a bolt from the blue that we were supposed to have been in the wrong all the time. We didn’t steal anything, but they’re trying to accuse us of stealing coffees from the cafeteria. In actual fact we were offered drinks, and accepted them without payment.

“I thought it was just a kind gesture.

“We became friends with the people in the café and would have a little chat between jobs. They put on the charge that we misappropriated time, but the arrangement we had was that the job was run from a bleeper, so if a job came through, you got up and did it.

“It’s not as though we just sat around idling. It’s just the nature of portering – you don’t do a job unless you’ve got a job to do.”

He said he was called in for an interview with senior staff last August, following an investigation sparked after porters were spotted in the canteen on CCTV.

“I think they could have handled it a lot better,” Mr Seymour said.

“You feel like you’re being tarred with this brush of being classed as a thief. It’s not nice. We’re scapegoats.”`

Mr Lee said he always believed the beverages had been paid for by the canteen staff.

“They’ve gone through 200 hours of camera footage and there are only three occasions of me having a drink. I would get a drink, but I always thought they were paid for.

“I don’t think it’s fair at all.”

The porters were dismissed in November following a final disciplinary hearing and three are planning to appeal.

Mr Seymour said agency staff were being recruited in their place.

“We’re pushing for an appeal,” he said. “This has upset me. I’m on the dole now and it’s not a good time to be out of work. I loved the job and gave 100 per cent to it.”