AROUND 200 cleaning staff employed at four south London hospitals took strike action on Monday 21st March in support of their demand for a proper wage, including sick pay and unsocial hours’ payments.
The workers, members of the GMB union, are employed by Aramark, an American based multinational outsourcing provider, which, the union says, can well afford to pay proper wages.
This is the first strike against Aramark in Britain and it has affected the Maudsley, Lambeth, Lewisham and Bethlem hospitals. The vote in favour of industrial action was 97 per cent.
The strikers are seeking a living wage of at least £10 an hour, and fairer arrangements for sick pay and unsocial hours’ payments. Currently a two-tier system operates.
Many of the staff who keep the hospital sites clean and prepare and serve food to patients are paid as little as £7.38 per hour and receive only 10 days of sick pay per year. Sick pay is only provided after the first three days of illness and workers in their first year of service receive no sick pay at all.
Nadine Houghton, GMB regional organiser, said: "GMB members are serious about fighting for something that any worker should be entitled to: a wage they can live on and a sick pay scheme which ensures they won’t be forced into poverty as a result of falling ill.
"Aramark make a profit by paying workers as little as possible. The GMB members in South London and Maudsley NHS Trust are now saying enough is enough, they should be rewarded properly for the work they do. Our members are proud to be making history by leading the first strike in the UK against Aramark.
“Predominantly low paid women workers, the bravery our members are showing in this fight against an Aramark multinational is inspiring. One woman was telling me how she was punched in the face by one of the patients while she was serving food on the ward – all for £7.38 per hour!
“Aramark is a $14.3 billion, American owned, multinational outsourcing provider. They can afford to pay their staff a proper wage."
She added: “It's unfortunate that we have been forced to ask our members whether or not they are prepared to strike but we have consistently told Aramark that our members provide a front line service in a mental health trust within London and as such they deserve to be paid a genuine living wage of £10ph, full sick pay and proper shift allowances.
“Our members are working around many vulnerable individuals, sometimes they are verbally and even physically attacked and yet many of them are unable to take sick leave as they are not paid for this, some of them also receive no extra pay for working weekends and bank holidays.
“They have rejected the offer that Aramark made to them as it went nowhere near satisfying the members' demands. GMB will continue to press for a living wage to be set at £10 per hour as agreed at GMB Congress.
“Members make clear in their experience you need at least £10 an hour and a full working week to have a decent life free from benefits and tax credits. Less than £10 an hour means just existing not living.
“It means a life of isolation, unable to socialise. It means a life of constant anxiety over paying bills and of borrowing from friends, family and pay day loan sharks just to make ends meet."