Support is growing for east London hospital workers taking on multinational outsourcing giant Serco as they launched a week-long walkout today, Tuesday.
It follows a three-day walkout by the Unite union members last week—and is part of a programme of hard-hitting industrial action across the summer. The low paid, largely migrant workers work as cleaners, domestics and porters across four sites of Barts Health NHS Trust.
Sajid, a cleaner at the Royal London Hospital, was on strike for the first time. “I didn’t go on strike last time, but I joined the union a day ago after seeing everyone out here,” he told Socialist Worker. “If we don’t join the union and fight, we won’t have any rights.”
He added, “Being out here is the best, it shows we can doing something.”
Workers are fighting for a pay rise of 30p an hour after Serco only offered them 1 percent and a ten year pay freeze. Anne, a Unite rep, told Socialist Worker, “It is so bad working for low pay. It’s not enough but management still want more out of us.”
This low pay regime forces many of Serco’s workers to do other jobs to top up their pay. As Sajid said, “I already have to work two jobs to get by.
“Everything is more expensive in London—rent, bills, even traveling to work—but we only get the minimum.”
Anne added, “Forcing people to work more than one job makes us tired, it makes us stressed, it makes us sick.”
Their fight is focused on pay, but workers have raised a number of issues over how management treats them. Serco took over the £600 million contract in April promising hospital bosses that it would improve efficiency.
Geraldine, a domestic worker at the Royal London Hospital, told Socialist Worker, “It’s about pay, it’s about our terms and conditions—and it’s about the broken promises.
“Since Serco came in they have just been changing everything even though they said they wouldn’t.”
Workers have been asked to do extra jobs other health workers, on higher pay bands, previously did.
Geraldine said, “Before you would have four people responsible for a ward, now it’s just two. We have to clean the equipment, serve people breakfast and do the washing up—it’s too much.”
Justine, another domestic worker, told Socialist Worker, “When you’re sick they call you up and tell you to come in anyway—it’s ridiculous.”
But workers are determined to resist. Anne said, “We will fight, we will not stop until we get what we want.”
They plan a demonstration this Saturday and a further two-week walkout from Tuesday 25 July. A win for them would strike a blow against low pay and privatisation in the NHS. Every trade unionist should build solidarity for their fight.