Another group of workers, this time much less well paid, were also on strike this week. They are the caterers, cleaners and porters at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, west London, who are organised by the United Voices of the World (UVW), a street union which is not in the TUC.
The 200 workers are outsourced by Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust to French multinational Sodexo. Their demand that they become NHS employees has become the longest in the history of the NHS and is endorsed by the London Regional Council of the British Medical Association (BMA), the doctors’ trade union.
In addition to this week’s action they have already taken six days of strike action, with more planned for the second week of December and an indefinite strike commencing in January.
UVW organiser Petros Elia said: “This is the first time a group of outsourced works are striking to be brought in-house as NHS employees. We cannot allow for there to be a two-tiered racially divided workforce within the NHS, and we won’t stop striking until that is put to an end. If Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales can do away with outsourcing cleaners, caterers and porters in hospitals, then England can and should as well.” Amongst their demands are the modest ones of getting vaccinations, improved separate-gender changing facilities, and even access to NHS staff canteens and common rooms.
Fifty doctors at St. Mary’s have signed an open letter to the Imperial Trust CEO, Tim Orchard, calling on the Trust to meet the workers’ demands and make them direct employees. They say: “Workers employed by Sodexo feel undervalued, demotivated and unsupported and have been left with no option but to vote for industrial action,” adding that: “Sodexo must do more to give them a fairer deal and it is incumbent upon the Trust to help enforce this change.”
One necessarily anonymous striker said: “I work 55 hours a week just to cover my rent. This is my home; I spend more time here than in my house. Yet I am treated like a dog and made to feel like dirt.”
A sympathetic doctor has said that many are paid a mere £8.21 per hour (those below the age of 25, even less), when the London living wage is set at £10.55 per hour. To make matters worse, they are only entitled to the bare minimum statutory sick pay of £94.25 per week. As a result, many report coming in to work whilst ill because they cannot afford the financial penalty of taking a sick day.
The same doctor reports that a security worker at another hospital told him how she had disciplinary action taken against her after leaving her post on the night she became ill with acute appendicitis. Her tiny sick pay meant she was forced to return to a physically demanding job before she had fully recovered from the emergency surgery.