Unite members strike at Barts over unpaid bonus

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Striking Unite members made their voices heard outside the King’s Fund headquarters in Central London on 14 May in the latest round of their dispute with Barts NHS Trust.

Report from Noeleen Grattan

The issue is that the Trust, one of the largest in England, has not paid these striking cleaners, porters and other facilities staff at the Barts Health group of hospitals: St Bartholomew’s Hospital, The Royal London Hospital, Mile End Hospital, Whipps Cross Hospital and Newham Hospital, the £1655 bonus promised to NHS staff who worked through the Covid Pandemic.

Despite being some of the lowest paid workers in the NHS, excuses are being found to deny the workers their £1655 Covid Bonus.

These Unite members celebrated in March 2022 when cleaning, portering, security and other domestic services provided by the outsourcing giant SERCO were to be brought back in-house. The SERCO contract expired at the end of April 2023 and the striking workers’ in-house contracts commenced at the beginning of May 2023. However, the cut off point to receive the £1655 Pandemic Bonus was cynically set as April 2023 thus denying the low paid staff, predominantly from minority ethnic backgrounds, a bonus they sorely need as the cost of living crisis continues unabated.

Why make noise at The King’s Fund head office in Central London? The connection is The Right Honourable Jacqui Smith. She is the Chair of Barts NHS Trust, one of the largest in England and the Trust that runs the East London hospitals where these striking workers were employed throughout the Covid pandemic. The same Jacqui Smith, Labour Home Secretary (2007 -2009), is also now a Trustee at the King’s Fund, ‘an independent charity working to improve health and care in England’.

The King’s Fund say they are about ‘Ideas that change health and care’ so hopefully they will listen to the striking workers who visited them on May 14 with the brilliant idea that low paid staff at Barts be paid what they are owed. These striking workers and NHS campaigners all over the country say ‘No’ to a two-tier NHS.

The issue of low pay and the issue of the depletion of our NHS by parasitic private sector profiteers are two sides of the same dysfunctional coin. This problem needs to be fixed by the restoration of our people’s NHS. We need to reinstate the NHS in line with it’s founding principles which work very well when funded to succeed, not underfunded to fail. For the private sector, profit is in the driving seat and this means keeping wages down and provision of services ‘cost effective’ (profit maximising). Their focus is on the short term and they cut and run when they see better profit opportunities elsewhere.

A good example is the recent behaviour of Centene/Operose Health in selling off GP practices that were not the cash cow they hoped for. Our local Haringey KONP and other local KONP groups around the country are acting to stop another private company from taking over GPs’ practices, to the detriment of patients and NHS staff and breaking contracts along the way in order to do so.

Keep Our NHS Public and other NHS campaigners are busy promoting ideas to improve health and care in England. These are life saving ideas which we hope and indeed demand, that The King’s Fund and NHS Trusts all over the country do not ignore. To do so is to put patient’s lives at risk and see health inequalities increase.

Keep Our NHS Public is campaigning to restore/reinstate our NHS in line with it’s founding principles. The NHS was designed to deliver optimum health outcomes and health equality for patients, NHS staff and carers and communities. It’s failure to thrive is because it has been failed by underfunding and privatisation. See KONP’s Restore the People NHS Campaign launched nationally in March this year.

The London Launch will take place on June 22 with a Conference in North London. Why make time to join striking workers in the NHS? The Barts workers striking against a two tier NHS are truly inspiring. Seeing their enthusiasm for being in a Union made me feel hopeful for the future. It was great fun to participate in the singing and dancing and noise-making in solidarity with striking workers enjoying the serious business of demanding a fair settlement to their dispute. We must all demand better, loudly and insistently together – as workers, patients, carers and communities.

Together, we will not be defeated!

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