Socialist Worker

Serco to leave Barts hospitals, but pay strikes still needed

Issue No. 2780

Barts workers struck against Serco in 2017

Barts workers struck against Serco in 2017 (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Serco has announced it is ditching a contract with one of Britain’s biggest NHS trusts just as workers there prepare for a strike ballot.

Bosses at the hated outsourcing firm this week confirmed that they will end their contract to provide “soft services” to London’s Barts Health in 2023.

The multinational is notorious for low pay, management bullying and making huge profits from the health service.

Unite union members on the Serco contract at Barts, including cleaners and porters, are paid up to 15 percent less than staff employed by the NHS directly. They are demanding a significant pay rise and a change of culture.

Workers complain that managers use Serco’s sickness policy and disciplinary procedures as a way to enforce unmanageable workloads.

Profits

Serco saw revenues rise by 20 percent last year to £3.9 billion, leading to a massive 75 percent hike in profits to £179.2 million.

But the firm is offering its Barts staff a rise of just 1 percent, while inflation soars to a whopping 4.9 percent.

No wonder then that the mainly black and Asian staff have decided enough is enough. They will open a month-long industrial action ballot soon.

The threat of action has Barts management worried. The deputy chief executive at the NHS trust said he would “consider future arrangements, which could including bringing some services back in house.”

But any such “in-sourcing” would only happen at the end of the Serco contract, so there can be no question of parking the questions of pay and bullying for the next 18 months.

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Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “Our members begin voting on industrial action on Monday. Serco and Bart’s can only be confident of ‘no disruption’ if they are prepared to meet our reasonable demands for a significant pay increase and an end to unmanageable workloads, poor treatment and bullying by managers.”

And she sent this warning to Barts bosses. “There must be no more contracts for outsourcing privateers that put profit before people.

“Unite expects nothing short of a solid commitment from Barts to end the grossly unjust two-tier workforce. The trust must bring all outsourced services back in-house.”

Graham is absolutely right. In order to show both Serco and Barts how serious Unite is, the union must throw its weight behind the coming ballot and fight for the highest possible yes vote.

Like most other health workers, porters, domestics and cleaners have been battered and bruised by the pandemic. Some are despondent and want to leave the job.

A good campaign, followed by strong union action, can shift the mood from bitterness to anger.

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