Strike action by NHS cleaners, caterers and porters has won a huge victory against out-sourcing at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in London. Following a 3-month campaign of industrial action organised by members of the United Voices of the World trade union (UVW), the Trust agreed to bring 1000 outsourced workers in-house, making them direct employees and putting and putting an end to over 3 decades in which these jobs have been out-sourced to agency firms like Sodexo and ISS.
Out-sourcing jobs to private companies is a strategy used by some Trust managements to drive down wages and conditions and remove low-paid staff from the guarantees on pay and working conditions (such as sick leave and pension entitlements) that are supposed to be in place for all NHS employees. Organised strike action in the last year has successfully halted attempts to out-source jobs at other sites like Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, but today marks the first time that an entire NHS Trust has been forced by strike action to bring a group of out-sourced workers in-house.
Although the workers to be brought in-house are spread across all five acute sites managed by the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, the campaign was led by caterers, cleaners and porters at St Mary’s Hospital. The struggle drew support and solidarity from health workers and health campaigners. The support staff in question are overwhelmingly migrant BME workers, who have suffered disproportionately from cost-cutting and the running-down of pay and conditions across the NHS over the last decade.
A second industrial dispute is ongoing at St George’s University, an NHS medical school, where security guards outsourced to Noonan and unionised with UVW are waging a similar struggle against the disrespect and discrimination that they experience as a result of their exclusion from the NHS workforce.
A hard-won victory: staff and campaigners react
Loretta, one of the workers, said: “In November our strikes forced them [the Trust] to pay us the London Living Wage, it meant we got an extra several hundred pounds a month, but it wasn’t enough. We thought, “why shouldn’t we be paid like all other NHS workers?” and we kept on fighting for full equality. Now I won’t have to choose between paying my rent and protecting my health. Striking was not an easy thing to do, but we’ve proven that by sticking together, and by having the support of the amazing union UVW, that workers can win for themselves and patients up and down the country.”
Petros Elia, co-founder of UVW, commented: “Today marks a huge victory not just for these brave workers, but for all outsourced workers in the NHS. Our members were told they would never win this fight, but with the full backing of UVW and mass picketing, blockades and occupations they’ve won against all odds. This victory sets a historic precedent which we hope other workers will follow in demanding an end to outsourcing across the NHS.”
Petros continued, “This is also a victory for patients. Study after study shows hospitals that outsource their ancillary staff have higher incidences of infections, including MRSA, and patient complaints are higher when it comes to hygiene and cleanliness. Cutting out profit hungry contractors will allow the Trust to put patient health and safety first.”
Tom Gardiner, a doctor at St Mary’s and a member of Keep Our NHS Public, commented:
“Today is a well-earned victory for cleaners, caterers and porters at St Mary’s Hospital. No one should have to work with the fear that they cannot provide for their family and I hope this announcement will provide a sense of security that was so desperately lacking before. Today is also a victory for outsourced workers all over the NHS. It demonstrates that with civilised industrial action and a tenacious spirit, workers can prevail against the odds. A few months ago I wrote an open letter in support of industrial action to my Trust’s CEO, signed by over 50 doctors at St Mary’s. This was nothing compared to the efforts Sodexo staff and their union, United Voices of the World, went to, but I hope it encourages a sense of solidarity amongst NHS staff that we are one family. We stand together with a shared dream of an NHS that is both a world class health service and a world class employer.”