‘Disgraceful treatment’: Outsourced NHS workers strike over low pay and exploitation

Mainly Black, Asian and ethnic minority hospital staff employed by Serco paid up to 15 per cent less than those directly employed by NHS, says union Unite

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Monday 31 January 2022 14:03 GMT
Hospital staff employed by G4S protested outside Croydon Hospital on Monday over Covid sick pay
Hospital staff employed by G4S protested outside Croydon Hospital on Monday over Covid sick pay (screen grab/Twitter)

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Hundreds of NHS workers have gone on strike against giant outsourcing companies over pay and working conditions.

Unite members employed by private firms Serco across London hospitals, including cleaners and porters, catering staff and reception staff, are protesting against what they describe as low pay and exploitation.

A rally is being held outside Royal London Hospital on Monday, with further protests planned at other Barts hospitals over the next two weeks. Speakers include Labour MPs Apsana Begum and John McDonnell MP.

A separate protest took place outside Croydon Hospital on Monday, where GMB members employed by outsourcing company G4S as workers, cleaners and porter called for full Covid sick pay.

Unite said that talks at the Advisory Conciliation And Arbitration Service (ACAS) stalled after Serco failed to offer a sufficient improvement on its pay offer, which amounts to less than 3 per cent for some workers, while inflation has jumped to 7.5 per cent.

The mainly Black, Asian and ethnic minority staff are paid up to 15 per cent less than directly employed NHS staff, the union said.

Calling for an “end to this injustice”, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: "The [outsourced staff] face the same risks as NHS-employed staff.  Why on earth are they being paid significantly worse while being treated disgracefully?

“It’s time to bring these workers, employed by Serco not the NHS, back into NHS employment.”

Unite regional secretary Peter Kavanagh said: “Serco and Barts need to deliver a pay increase that addresses the poor pay and the inequality of treatment compared to directly employed NHS staff at other hospitals in London."

The union is calling on Barts to take the contract in-house and demand an end to Serco’s “draconian” use of the company’s sickness and disciplinary policies, “bullying” by management and “unmanageable” workloads.

Politicians and other NHS workers, including doctors and nurses from the trust, joined the GMB demonstration to voice their support – concerned about the “massive public health” risk posed by the lack of Covid sick pay.

Helen O’Connor, GMB regional organiser, said she had personally seen the payslips of members showing no sick pay during Covid absence, and that despite her contacting management on the members’ behalf, they had been left suffering from Covid “without a penny coming in”.

“Our members are not taking industrial action at this stage; this is a peaceful demonstration by workers on their lunchbreaks to show their bosses that they deserve proper sick pay as part of their terms and conditions, and a decent pay rise to reflect their hard work,” she said.

“We are again calling on Croydon NHS Trust to intervene and ensure that their contractors are paying our members what they are owed. If they can’t put their money where their mouth is, we will have to look to escalate our campaign until they can.”

Taddy McAuley, Serco’s contract director for Barts Health, said: “We are extremely disappointed with the notification of strike action from Unite as we recently increased the pay offer for our employees to a total of 3 per cent, backdated to April 2021.

“This is the same percentage increase as that being received by people directly employed by the NHS. Serco also recently announced a £100 ex-gratia payment for all of our 52,000 front line employees around the world including all our colleagues at Barts Health.”

Shane DeGaris, deputy group chief executive at Barts Health NHS Trust said it would be considering future arrangements of the facilities management contract, which “could include bringing some services back in-house”.

A G4S spokesperson said the wellbeing of its staff was “paramount” and that employees received sick pay as per their contractual terms and in line with official guidelines, adding: “Employees who have not been able to attend work due to Covid-19 have received full pay.”

A spokesperson for Croydon Health Services NHS Trust said it had, and would continue to, reimburse G4S to cover the cost of Covid sick pay.

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