Pregnant security guard Erica is the only worker at Great Ormond Street children’s hospital (Gosh) in central London that will not receive proper maternity pay. She and another 32 outsourced security guards don’t have the same pay or terms and conditions as workers directly employed by the NHS.
But the UVW union members have had enough—and began a six week strike on Wednesday.
Erica told Socialist Worker bosses are “just making excuses for why we can’t be brought in house”. “We have ten-hour shifts, where we’re on our feet the whole time,” she said. “We work outside whether it rains or snows.
“It’s hard. Some of us do this four days in a row and we don’t even get to use a locker like other staff.”
She said it’s even more insulting that workers don’t receive the same benefits when they often do jobs they aren’t contracted to do. “We all escort porters that carry blood to operating rooms,” Erica said. “This is essential work that needs to be done quickly, but we were never contracted to do it.
“We make sure the accommodation is safe for parents nearby is secure, we work around reception.”
The workers, who are primarily black, Asian and migrants, don’t receive sick pay, enhanced maternity leave, or annual leave entitlements.
Security guard Peter told Socialist Worker he’s striking for “equality, parity and justice”. “We are asking for justice because we have been treated differently,” he said. “We are in the same environment as other NHS staff, but because we are outsourced, we don’t enjoy the benefits that they enjoy.”
Up to 200 supporters joined the security guards outside the hospital on Thursday for a lively but angry strike rally.
At one point members of the hospital’s board—which refused to meet any of the workers’ demands the night before—stood watching the strike rally. Workers demanded an answer to why they can’t have the same terms and conditions as other staff at the hospital. The board members refused to speak.
Strikers and activists chanted, “Shame on you Gosh,” and held placards that read, “Sick pay now,” and, “Dignity and respect for Gosh workers.” The rally was also supported by trade unionists from the RMT, Unite and PCS unions.
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Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also joined the rally. He told the crowd, “GOSH is a world renowned institution, but for goodness sake, a hospital is about teamwork.
“It’s about nurses, doctors, cleaners and security guards working together. Every member of that team should receive the same benefits.”
Last year workers’ protests forced Gosh to ditch their contracts with outsourcer OCS to provide security. Workers believed that the hospital would then bring them in house. But they were outsourced again—this time to Carlisle Support Services.
Peter said that, at the height of the pandemic, workers were escorting patients with Covid to the hospital with virtually no PPE. “We had no option but to go into work and make money, especially as we don’t get sick pay,” he explained. “I had to put my family at risk.”
Alongside strikes workers are also suing Gosh for racial discrimination over pay inequality. Erica added, “All of us are either black or Asian. I feel if we were a different ethnicity, this wouldn’t happen.”
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