STRIKES across four London hospitals today expose the scandal of NHS privatisation as low-paid workers fight multinational privateer Serco for a pay rise.
Cleaners, porters and security guards will walk out this morning at Barts NHS Trust hospitals Whipps Cross, the Royal London Hospital, St Bartholomew’s and Mile End in the first of three days of strike action. The Unite members at the trust voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action to stop job cuts and to fight for the first above-inflation pay rise for 12 years. The union said it would be the biggest strike in the NHS this year, involving 700 cleaners.
Porters at Whipps Hospital are also in dispute over plans to cut jobs, on top of Serco bosses increasing workloads to “unmanageable levels.” Barts is the largest NHS trust in Britain with a PFI contract worth a massive £1 billion and a rogues’ gallery of privateers milking the public purse, including blacklisters Skanska and Carillion. Once seen as a prime example of how NHS trusts can benefit from private cash, it is now saddled with huge debt and forced to repay a crippling £115 million each year. The Royal London Hospital alone faces a staggering £2.4m per week in interest payments as part of the deal.
In February 2015 it was revealed the trust had a £93m deficit, leading to the resignations of the chief executive Philip Morris and chief nurse Kay Riley. And the following month the trust was taken into special measures following a damning Care Quality Commission report at Whipps Cross hospital which exposed a culture of bullying and unsafe staffing levels. The so-called “soft services” — cleaning staff, porters and security — were hived off to privateers Serco last year in a £600m deal. One of the first moves made by the multi-billion-pound company — which made £82m profit last year — was to cut the paid breaks of hard-working cleaners to save money on the contract.
Staff took two days of strike action, forcing Serco bosses to reinstate the breaks. Those on strike today are demanding a pay increase of 30p an hour and opposing job losses. Unite estimates the pay claim for just over 1,000 staff on the contract would cost £800,000. Unite regional officer Gloria Sindall said: “Cleaners, porters and security staff have seen their real living standards drop year on year.” Ms Sindall added that despite Serco’s huge profit last year managers were “refusing to share these earnings fairly and protect the living standards of the workers. “Unite members are fed up and are preparing for a series of strikes to demand a fair and proper pay rise which recognises the contribution they make to Serco and to Barts.”
Serco contract director Phil Mitchell said: “We are disappointed by Unite’s planned action given everything we have done to improve pay and conditions for our staff in the six months since we began our contract.”
A spokesperson for Barts NHS Trust said: “We have been working closely with both sides to find a resolution to this dispute.”
Unite plans a seven-day stoppage from July 11 if the dispute is not resolved.
Check out this short video from the picket line today.
By Steve Sweeney. (A version of this article appeared in the Morning Star on 04/07/2017)