By Isabel Ringrose
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2794

Barts strikers celebrate pledge of return to the NHS

The return to the NHS will come in a year's time
Issue 2794
Barts strikers, most of them black women, with red Unite union flags

Barts NHS strikers and their supporters lobbied the hospital’s board on Wednesday (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Barts NHS Health Trust strikers employed by outsourcer Serco have won their dispute and will be taken back in-house. They will gain NHS pay, terms and conditions when the current contract with Serco expires at the end of April 2023.

Action by Unite union strikers at the Royal London Hospital and Whipps Cross hospital in east London and Barts Hospital in the City of London shows how striking workers can win. Hundreds of mainly migrant cleaners, porters, security guards and domestic workers struck for two weeks at the beginning of February. 

As well as being returned to the NHS, Unite members will also receive a 3 percent pay rise and a lump sum of up to £400 depending on their shift pattern while still employed by Serco. A striker and rep told Socialist Worker they had “tears of joy”.

“We were nervous waiting for the Trust’s decision. It’s joy and surprise, even though we thought we might get it. We got this because of the support of Unite and ourselves coming together and standing together to fight.

“Without being together we cannot win. And with the support of everyone too—it’s been amazing. We can’t believe it. When we began the strike we were thinking we would just try—it’s not always easy to win.”

After Serco’s contract ends over 1,800 workers will be employed by Barts Health under the NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) conditions. This will mean significant pay rises and improvements to holiday and sick pay. 

Strikers returned to work for two further weeks after striking and had planned two more weeks of action beginning this week. This was partially called off to consider a new offer and allow talks with the board. The board then confirmed on Wednesday that the workers would be brought in-house. 

The rep explained that going on strike was not an easy decision. “It’s been cold on the picket lines and we were worried people wouldn’t come out. But it’s been amazing. The effort tells you how desperate and upset people were. We were not happy getting less than our own colleagues for the same work. It’s not right.”

They added that the win is huge for the underpaid and undervalued workers. “Some of us have to work two or three jobs, that’s no good and keeps families apart,” they said.

Before the Unite strikers began their action, Unison union leaders pushed through a bad deal for its Barts members. It saw a 3 percent pay rise and £100 bonus for some. And there was no guarantee workers would be brought in-house after Serco’s contract ends. 

It was a risky strategy for Unite to call off this week’s strikes. Although strikers were ready to go back out next week depending on the board’s decision, momentum could’ve been taken from the fight.

And a 3 percent pay rise, the same as Unison workers, when inflation is at 7.8 percent is less than could have been won if the strikes continued. 

Barts Health Trust says it will now “work with trade unions and staff representatives” so that workers are “brought on to AfC conditions as soon as reasonably practicable”. The strikers had been clear they do not want to wait after being brought in-house to receive full NHS conditions.

“We were struggling with this,” the rep explained. “We wanted it straight away, not after one or two years, and now we believe we’ve achieved it.”

The reps’ message to other outsourced NHS workers and any thinking of striking is “never give up”. 

“Even if it looks like it’s not going to happen, it takes time but you can get there if you try. Never give up when something looks helpless—keep on going until a victory.”

This is the second Barts strike since 2017. Should the Trust renege on the deal, workers should be ready to strike again. 

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