Low-paid staff at an NHS hospital treating coronavirus patients have walked out after a private contractor failed to pay them properly.
Workers including cleaning, portering and catering staff at Lewisham Hospital "stormed off the job" during a row with outsourcing firm ISS, their trade union GMB said.
In November local NHS managers signed a contract that saw around 400 staff jobs privatised and transferred to the outsourcing company, pledging the deal would bring "change and innovation".
But the private company admits that problems with its payroll system have led to some employees not being paid correctly for weeks.
Workers who were not paid properly at the end of February were expecting the mistake to be corrected in their pay packets this week, but problems have continued and for many of the workers the money did not materialise.
As a result, around 30 workers in the hospital – the first in London to treat a coronavirus patient – walked off the job on Thursday, potentially disrupting the cleaning of wards as the pandemic bites.
Helen O’Connor, an organiser for the GMB union, said: “For many of these workers missing just one pay cheque means not being able to pay the rent, or put food on their families’ tables.
“They are at the end of their tether following weeks of their pay being short - now today they get no pay at all.
“This could not have happened at a worse time - we are facing a coronavirus pandemic and infected patients are now being admitted into the hospital.
“Meanwhile the people who are meant to be keeping the hospital clean and safe are not getting paid
“Once again the dangers of outsourcing in the NHS are laid bare for all to see.”
One member of housekeeping staff told the South London Press local newspaper that the way they and their colleagues had been treated was "disgusting".
“We are working with coronavirus in the hospital and not getting paid for it," the staff member, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
“If we don’t clean the ward it is a state and we have a chance of catching coronavirus here.”
A spokesperson for ISS said: “ISS has recently transferred a large number of employees on to their payroll at the University Hospital Lewisham.
“This has involved moving to a different pay cycle and process for employees transferring to ISS.
“We are very sorry that some employees have not been paid correctly and we have been taking urgent action to resolve any issues.
“We have arranged drop-in sessions and 1:1s to meet employees who have had an issue and to ensure that they are paid in full.
“We are committed to ensuring a smooth mobilisation and encourage any employees with queries to contact us directly so that we can answer any questions and rectify any issues as swiftly as possible.”
Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust provided a further statement from Chris Ash, Managing Director of Healthcare from ISS, who said "the issue has not affected the service we provide: we continue to maintain high standards of hygiene at the hospital, with cleaning, portering and catering services provided as normal to patients, staff and visitors".
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