Back in March, as the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold in the UK, cleaners at Lewisham Hospital were forced to fight for payment for their work when they were outsourced to ISS. Now workers in Lewisham Hospital catering department are facing restructure. Here GMB Southern Region Helen O’Connor explains how this latest move could have a negative impact on workers.
In spite of promises made by managers that service redesign, service transformation and ‘restructuring the business’ are full of hope and opportunity workers generally find the opposite is true. In this day and age when a consultation is launched in the NHS, this means a service is reduced and staff find there are adverse changes to pay, hours or their job roles. As open market principles get a grip on the NHS constant, disruptive restructuring becomes a recurring feature of life
A restructure currently underway in the Lewisham Hospital catering department is typical of how changes can be very good for a private business but will have a negative impact on workers and patients in the hospital. With the agreement of Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, contractor ISS is removing fresh food provision from the hospital in favour of cook/chill food. Cook/Chill comes in big packets and it is very similar to a giant ready meal. It goes without saying that cook/chill food will not be the same as fresh, wholesome food cooked that day on site. Forty-seven jobs are no longer needed in the Lewisham kitchens as a result of the change over to ‘cook/chill’ so ISS are now proceeding to cut hours and jobs on the contract. ISS recently raised the wages to £10.55 an hour but they are now reducing jobs, hours and services to the hospital to claw back the cost of the pay rise.
ISS have attempted to use the cover of the pandemic and social distancing to deny workers the right to union representation in their one to one meetings but they have been heavily challenged on this. They are now rushing to force through cuts in hours and compulsory redundancies. It is a matter of time before ISS attempt to make similar changes to the cleaning and the portering services in the hospital because balancing the books will always be a far higher priority to a private company than providing job security or excellent service to the NHS.
If a worker happens to be subjected to a restructure it is important to remember that trade unions can be used for more than just cutting a deal in the one to one meeting. Restructure meetings are just proposals and they are never a done deal. If the workforce strongly disagrees with a restructure it is important to get the unions involved early on so that we can work together to build effective resistance to cuts to services.
Helen O'Conner (GMB)