Saturday, September 02, 2006

East London hospital strike

PORTERS, cleaners and switchboard staff employed by Rentokil Initial, based at Whipps Cross Hospital in East London, have been on strike since 21st July.
An agreement over pay and conditions was made in 2003, due to come into force in April 2006; several other East London hospitals agreed to the deal, only Rentokil at Whipps Cross has failed to honour it.
The pay award is roughly equivalent to a £2 per hour raise, for staff who in some cases earn as little as £5.52 per hour, the agreement also included increases in leave entitlement.
Staff are on strike for the full award with pay backdated to April. Over 300 staff are employed by Rentokil Initial at Whipps Cross, and around 270 are members of the public sector union Unison.
So far there have been four days of strike action, with the strike days increasing from one to two days every other week over the past month. Rentokil has refused to discuss the deal with either the workers directly or with Unison, although some negotiations are planned with the hospital trust itself.
In light of this, strike days were increased from two to three in the next round of action on 29th August, and there is likely to be all out indefinite strike action during September if no deal is made.
The dispute is restricted to Whipps Cross at the moment, since it’s a local deal, which only Rentokil Initial has not met.
However a Unison member at the hospital told me that a national agreement is due to come into force in October, which Rentokil is unlikely to meet. This could lead to the dispute spreading nationally to all Rentokil Initial hospital staff during October.
One picket line worker said: “Everyone’s been out here every day, we don’t expect to have an offer at all, but we’ll be here again tomorrow and keep doing it as long as necessary, it’s been a really good atmosphere out here.”
The turn out on the picket line has been consistently over 200 people per day, starting at 6am and finishing around 5 or 6pm.
Only five Initial Rentokil workers employed at the hospital have crossed the line since the first day of the strike, many workers who were not members of Unison have joined the action unofficially or joined since it started.
But company has been shipping in employees from all over London and even Brighton as scab labour, in some cases putting them up in hospital accommodation.