By Nick Clark
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2549

Unofficial action by migrant workers at London hospital beats back multinational

This article is over 7 years, 2 months old
Issue 2549
Determined to resist. Cleaners at The Royal London Hospital
Determined to resist. Cleaners at The Royal London Hospital (Pic: Tom Kay)

Low paid migrant workers at an east London hospital have beat back privatising bosses with unofficial action. Now they’re raring to fight for more.

Cleaners at The Royal London Hospital staged an unofficial walkout yesterday, Thursday, after bosses at outsourcing giant Serco cut their breaks and attacked their pay.

More than 100 cleaners walked out yesterday after a mass meeting in the hospital canteen.

And they defied bullying bosses to hold another mass meeting this morning.

It came after Serco, who they have recently been outsourced to, cut their morning tea break and imposed a ten-year pay cut.

But the action forced Serco bosses to reinstate the breaks. Cleaners erupted in cheers at the news at the meeting this morning.

Speaking at the meeting just as the news of the bosses’ climbdown was announced, one cleaner told the room, “We need our breaks. We can’t work without breaks. We are killing ourselves for the trust. We are going to fight to the last.”

Now the cleaners, members of the Unite union, are preparing to ballot for strikes over pay.

Serco have told the cleaners they will only get a 1 percent pay rise every year of the ten-year contract. That’s well below inflation—and much less than Serco, who were handed £600 million to run the contract, can afford.

Another cleaner told the meeting, “We have to be one—organised as one. If we are one we can do everything.

“We still have to fight to keep the breaks. And they have not responded to our pay claim. We have to strike so that we can get all we want.”

Other cleaners shouted out “we will”.

A Serco “transition director” told Socialist Worker this morning that claims they were cutting cleaners’ pay were “misinformation”.

Migrants—part of our class
Migrants—part of our class
  Read More

But it is true that cleaners are only getting a maximum 1 percent pay increase every year.

Unite officials also told Socialist Worker that Serco had promised no changes when they were given the contract last year.


Yet almost immediately after taking over, they removed the workers’ morning tea breaks. A small matter for bosses—but important to cleaners so overworked that many have had to take time off with work-related injuries.

Serco also want to push through shift changes and have plans to cut porters’ jobs.

The strong action, organised by cleaners on every floor of the hospital, forced Serco bosses to quickly back down on the breaks.

But Serco have told the cleaners that the breaks depend on staffing levels. It’s a veiled threat that means cleaners won’t get their breaks if there are less of them on shift.

The anger and energy at this morning’s meeting shows they won’t take threats lying down. And Unite membership among cleaners is rising fast.

One cleaner told Socialist Worker, “We’re fighting for our rights.”

Politicians from all mainstream parties blame migrant workers for lowering wages. But it’s the bosses such as those at Serco who are driving forward attacks on pay—and these mostly migrant, mostly women workers are fighting to stop them.

And while many union officials say new anti-union laws make it difficult to strike, the cleaners have shown that it is possible to defy them—and win victories.

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance