By Isabel Ringrose
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2790

Barts hospital workers demand ‘Serco out’ as they begin two-week strike

Issue 2790
Barts strikers march around a hospital, one in the foreground waves a red flag, others carry a blue Unite union banner

Striking Unite union members march around the Royal London hospital (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Hundreds of outsourced workers at Barts Health NHS Trust in east London began a two-week strike for higher pay on Monday. 

The Unite union members—who work as cleaners, porters and security, catering and reception staff for multinational giant Serco—were in high spirits. The mainly black and migrant workers are fighting for higher pay and better terms and conditions—and they want Serco out. 

The picket line outside the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel was alive with vuvuzelas, drums and music. Beginning at 5.30am, strikers chanted, “Serco out, Serco go,” and made sure there was not a second of silence on the picket.

Striker Esther is a domestic worker at Royal London Hospital. “We want a pay rise,” she told Socialist Worker. “And we want to be in the NHS.”

Esther explained that, unlike workers employed directly by the NHS, they don’t get benefits such as double pay on a bank holiday. “We get paid for one day, whereas other NHS workers get double for doing the same job,” she said. 

“We want to be equal—and we want Serco and especially Barts to listen to us.”

Workers marched round the hospital building with blaring horns and chanted, “Who has the power? We have the power. What kind of power? Union power.”

Workers from St Bartholomew’s, the Royal London and Whipps Cross hospitals in east London voted by 97 percent in favour of strikes. 

The strike is set to continue until next Sunday—and workers say they will extend their industrial action if their demands aren’t met. After the ballot result, Serco revised their pay offer to 3 percent. The Unison union previously backed this deal, saying it negotiated it.

Meanwhile Serco paid its top two executives £7.4 million for 2021.

Strikers are angry that they are paid up to 15 percent less than staff directly employed by the NHS “for doing the same job”. And with the RPI rate of inflation up to 7.5 percent, it’s still a real terms pay cut. 

Striker Brad works in the Royal London’s catering department. “Serco offered us a pay rise of 3 percent—we want 15 percent and no less,” he told Socialist Worker. “We want no more private companies employing us, and for services to be back in the hands of the NHS.

“Serco do not treat us fairly. We only get sick pay after seven to eight days—we’re not paid before.

Brad said that Serco “don’t respect their staff”. “For some of the workers, there is a language barrier,” he said. “Serco uses that to take advantage—I see it happening and get involved to explain what’s going on so they can’t be used.”

Brad added, “Serco just wants to make money. They manage to pay their managers, and they’ve stuck together. We’re out on strike because we want this to be resolved. 

“We want them to hear our pain—it’s us that’s suffering. We’re out here together to demand more respect and for our voices to be heard.” 

Every trade unionist, socialist and campaigner should build solidarity for the Barts workers’ fight.

Pickets at the three sites from 5:30am. Rallies will also be held on Wednesday at 11am at St Barts Hospital and on Friday at Whipps Cross Hospital. Donations to: Unity Trust, 20344885, 60-83-01, Ref: Barts Strike. Cheques payable to: Barts Health NHS LE/7384L

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