Socialist Worker

Poorly-paid health staff are sick of low wages

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2680

strikers stage a sit-in in the foyer of St Mary’s hospital, west London

strikers stage a sit-in in the foyer of St Mary’s hospital, west London (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Striking health workers staged a sit-in in the lobby of St Mary’s Hospital in west London on Monday.

It marked the fourth day in a round of 15 strike days by the outsourced workers to demand NHS pay and terms and conditions from ­subcontractor Sodexo.

The cleaners, porters and other support staff—mostly migrant workers—held a mass meeting  outside the main gate before the protest. They resolved to fight for full equality with NHS workers, and to then demand back payments.

Muhammed, a UVW union member and medical records delivery driver, has worked at St Mary’s for eight years. “We spend most of our time working in that building,” he explained.

“We only go home to sleep.

“I’m willing to do everything, but I’ve got to get something in return.”

Muhammed explained the struggle to get by on barely above the minimum wage. “We were only getting £8.21 an hour,” he said. “I was really struggling, with five ­children on so little money.”

And because some workers are under the age of 25, they only get the lower rate of £7.70 an hour.

Work

One striking cleaner, Nally, told Socialist Worker, “Every weekend, it’s work, work, work—but I don’t get any more money.”

A three-day walkout last week forced bosses to make a pay offer. But workers rejected it at a mass meeting.

Sodexo and Imperial Healthcare NHS Trust agreed to pay the London Living Wage of £10.55 from 1 November.

But the living wage rate, set by the Living Wage Foundation, was increased on Monday to £10.75 an hour. Even this would still mean strikers’ pay lags behind the lowest paid workers who are directly employed by the NHS.

Another striker, Baddrdine, said, “We said it’s not enough as we’re living in London. Rents have gone up, transport costs have gone up—everything has gone up but our pay.”

Workers are demanding more than pay. Baddrdine said, “Everyone here is fighting for the same things—justice, respect and dignity. Sodexo does not treat staff fairly.”

Baddrdine explained that a major issue is the lack of sick pay compared to NHS workers. “If you’re off sick, you only get two days sick pay,” he said.

“You’re left struggling for the whole week. It’s happened many times to me.”

The UVW’s campaign has caused its membership to grow rapidly, showing that struggle builds unions. The union has said it is willing to escalate the action unless bosses meet their demands.

Other groups of outsourced ­workers have won NHS rates of pay this year by taking longer action.

Every trade unionist should raise money for the St Mary’s strikers in their workplaces and union branches.

To support the St Mary’s and Greenwich strike fund go to uvwunion.org.uk/strikefund

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