Security guards at Great Ormond Street Hospital to strike over ‘unfair’ maternity rights

Security staff have fewer rights than in-house NHS employees due to being outsourced to private firm

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Monday 17 January 2022 19:43
<p>Security guard Erica Rasheed pictured with colleagues from Great Ormond Street Hospital </p>

Security guard Erica Rasheed pictured with colleagues from Great Ormond Street Hospital

Security guards at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital will this week begin a six-week strike over “unfair” maternity rights for pregnant workers.

The security team at the hospital, which is one of the world’s leading in children’s care, receive thousands of pounds less per year in maternity pay than in-house NHS workers because they are outsourced to a private company.

More than 30 security guards work at the hospital and all are outsourced to Carlisle Support Services, owned by billionaire Tory donor Lord Ashcroft.

Security guards at Great Ormond Street will on Tuesday begin the six-week walk-out to demand maternity and sick pay equal to that of in-house workers, in what is set to be one of the lengthiest strikes in NHS history.

While in-house workers at the hospital receive eight weeks full maternity pay and 18 weeks of half maternity pay, security guards only get the statutory minimum - 90 per cent of average earnings for the first six weeks and then no more than £151.97 a week.

A representative from United Voices of the World (UVW), the union representing security guards at the hospital in Bloomsbury, told The Independent this amounts to at least £3,000 less in maternity pay for a worker each year.

Security guards, who are mainly from black and minority ethnic (BME) and migrant backgrounds, are calling for the same maternity provision, sick and injury pay, annual leave, overtime and pension contributions as in-house workers.

A spokesperson for the hospital said that Carlisle Security Services had assured them they are "happy to discuss changes in shift patterns and duties" with any staff member who is "finding things difficult".

In an exclusive interview, Erica Rasheed, a security guard who is four months pregnant, told The Independent it is “disgusting” and “unjust” that she will receive different maternity pay compared to her in-house colleagues.

“Especially when we talk about Great Ormond Street Hospital values of us being one big family,” she added. “In my view, there is hypocrisy. We deserve [equal] sick pay, better pay rates per hour and proper maternity and paternity leave.”

The 27-year-old, who is from Lisbon in Portugal but has lived in London for around seven years, said she is one of two female security guards in the team of 31 people - adding that her female colleague previously received lower maternity provision.

Ms Rasheed, who has a five-year-old daughter, said: “It is really unfair. We all work in the same hospital. We are frontline workers. We help Covid patients.

“We are the first ones to help. It is particularly crazy this is happening in 2022 in a hospital like Great Ormond Street.”

Ms Rasheed, who started working at the hospital last March, said staff occasionally cover NHS breaks at night even though it is not technically part of their job.

She added: “When a child is in surgery and needs blood, we cover the break of the person who sends the order to the porter for blood through the computer.

“It can be stressful. It is looking at a child’s details and blood type. If you take too long to send details to the porter, then the child’s life could be at risk.”

Ms Rasheed said her role as a security guard also includes controlling how many patients come into the building but explained her employer carried out a risk assessment last month which concluded she no longer has to stand outside the hospital because she is pregnant.

UVW states that Carlisle Support Services made revenues of £65m and profit of £6m in 2019 and condemned the fact outsourced workers were excluded from the three per cent pay rise NHS staff were given last year for their hard work during the pandemic.

Samuel Awittor, a security guard at the hospital, said: “We ask ourselves, are we less human than others? We begin to question why we should be working in the same environment and why there is this two-tier system where others get different benefits when we do the same or more”.

While Peter Akintoye, another guard, said: “We wish we didn’t have to strike but they have left us with no choice.”

Security guards at the children’s hospital have been urging the hospital to make them in-house staff for months but have recently been told there are no plans for this to happen at present.

Petros Elia, the UVW’s general secretary, said: “It’s outrageous that these workers are the only workers at the hospital who don’t get full sick pay [for non-Covid related sicknesses] during a global pandemic, when they are on the very frontlines, keeping patients and staff safe.

“The security guards have consistently shown they will go above and beyond when needed, now is the time for the bosses to give these workers the contracts they deserve.”

Ms Rasheed, the pregnant security worker, said guards do 12-hour shifts as she explained roles had changed in the wake of the Covid crisis, with staff now forced to stand outside the entrance to the hospital in all weathers.

She said: “We control how many people are coming in and out. You deal with aggressive parents. They think: ‘She is a woman, what can she do to me’. They shout, they swear and ignore me totally when I say only one parent is allowed in. Because of Covid, it is one parent per child.

“A 12-hour shift of standing is very painful for your back, feet and legs. You feel pain everywhere. It can be very tiring if you are pregnant. With the nausea, throwing up, and pain in the back, it can be really painful”.

A spokesperson for Great Ormond Street Hospital said: “Like many hospitals, we buy security services from a specialist provider to meet regulatory requirements and provide staff, patients and families with a professional, resilient service.

“We signed a three-year contract with Carlisle Security Services in August 2021. Carlisle Security assures us that they are happy to discuss changes in shift patterns and duties with any member of the team who is finding things difficult.

“We have seen on social media that industrial action is planned at GOSH this week and will do everything we can to minimise disruption to the children, young people and families who rely on our hospital.”

Carlisle Support Services has been contacted for comment.

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