Domestics at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow have scored a dramatic victory against a threat to outsource their jobs.
Management confirmed yesterday that they are committing to keeping the workers in-house, narrowly averting a strike action that would have begun on 6 June and had effect on six days throughout the month. This followed a period in which the managing Trust purported to be market-testing the service and preparing to put it out to tender. The strike action had received an overwhelming vote of approval from the domestics (who are members of UNISON), with 99% voting in favour in a ballot that achieved 84% turnout.
The outsourcing of domestics and other support staff was opposed has long served as a way to push down wages and conditions in NHS services. Outsourcing can also allow management to place different layers of workers on arbitrarily different contracts, thus undermining cohesion and organisation in the hospital workforce.
These struggles have also drawn support from health campaigners (including Keep Our NHS Public members) who are committed to defending decent wages and conditions and direct employment status for NHS support staff, both as a fundamental right and as a vital component of any high-quality health service. Princess Alexandra hospital currently has one of the best infection control rates in the country, thanks in large part to its workforce of in-house domestics.
UNISON regional organiser Caroline Hennessy commented:
“The domestics have waged an absolutely awe-inspiring campaign in defence not just of their jobs, but the entire NHS. They made it clear from the outset that they wouldn’t accept the privatisation of their services and by standing together they’ve won an incredible victory. But it shouldn’t have taken this long – the Trust has left this threat hanging over its loyal workers for months, leaving them in limbo when all they wanted was to stay in the NHS family. Princess Alexandra now has to make up for ill-advised attack on its workers. It should start by properly investing in its domestic staff and services. We look forward to working with the Trust on this in the coming months.”
Lyndsey Johnstone, a domestic at Princess Alexandra and UNISON rep, said:
“We’re over the moon to have won our fight to stay in the NHS. Domestics never wanted to go on strike but we had no other way to defend our jobs and our patients. We’ve been blown away by the support we’ve had from our colleagues in the hospital, the people of Harlow and from our fellow trade unionists around the country. Thanks to everyone who has supported us and helped us stop further privatisation of our NHS.”
The victory at Princess Alexandra Hospital will likely bolster the determination of support staff at other hospitals around the country, who are struggling to maintain or restore their direct employment by the NHS as well as to secure improved pay and conditions for their crucial work. In late April, many workers in the GMB trade union across several major London hospitals organised protests over the poverty pay and poor treatment that they receive at the hands of outsourcing firm Sodexo, while other GMB workers across the country protested the arbitrary and punitive pay policy of another firm, ISS. By organising protests and strikes, workers at other facilities, such as Liverpool Women’s Hospital, have also been able to win major improvements in their pay and conditions.