Around 200 cleaners, porters and caterers are poised to strike at major West London hospital St Mary’s, to demand better pay and working conditions in what could be one of the longest outsourced workers’ strikes in NHS history.
All the workers are migrants from all over the world, including Philippines, Lithuania, Portugal, Sierra Leone and Brazil.
The workers are outsourced by NHS Imperial Trust to Sodexo, a French multinational which makes nearly 1 billion euros annually in profit, much of which is from UK public funds.
LONDON — Hundreds of migrant workers have voted overwhelmingly to take prolonged strike action at St. Mary’s Hospital in what promises to be one of the longest strikes in NHS history.
The workers will begin their strikes on 28th, 29th and 31st of October to demand equality in pay and working conditions with directly employed NHS staff. Their union United Voices of the World has publicly committed to successive weeks of strike action that will stretch well into December if the demands of its members remain unmet.
Outsourced by Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust to French multinational Sodexo, the workers are paid an hourly rate of £8.21, and less for those under 25 years old — which is up to £10,000 less per year than staff of equivalent grade under the NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) pay scale.
The workers only have Statutory Sick Pay and cite this as forcing them to work on wards when ill — sometimes with contagious illnesses such as the flu — as they cannot afford to take time off when sick. The workers are also forced to change in mice-ridden, dimly lit and mixed-gender changing rooms located in the hospital’s basement. They are campaigning for better changing facilities as well as for an end to discrimination against outsourced staff that has seen Imperial ban them from eating in NHS canteens and resting in NHS staffrooms.
One striking cleaner said, “I work 55 hours a week just to cover my rent. St. Mary’s is my home, I spend more time here than in my house. Yet I am treated like a dog and made to feel like dirt”.
Co-founder of United Voices of the World and organiser of the strikes, Petros Elia, says, “In 2018 alone Sodexo turned a profit of 997 million euros. Sodexo’s contract with Imperial allowed its former CEO, Michel Landel to enjoy obscene executive pay totaling nearly a million pounds a year and annual bonuses of up to 200% of his salary. Sodexo and St Mary’s can afford to pay our workers in line with NHS rates and we urge them to do so — otherwise the strikes will continue indefinitely.”
Notes to Editors
Further quotes from union officials and striking workers are available upon request. Please contact:
Petros Elia, 07884 553443 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Kane Shaw, 07950 927798 / email@example.com
Planned strike dates at St. Mary’s hospital are as follows:
Round 1. 28th, 29th and 31st of October
Round 2. 11th, 12th and 13th of November
Round 3. 25th, 26th, 27th and 28th of November
Round 4. 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th of December
The demands of the cleaners, caterers and porters are as follows:
Full equality in pay scales and terms of conditions with in-house NHS staff as set by the NHS Agenda for Change (AfC); vaccinations; improved separate-gender changing facilities and access to NHS staff canteens and common rooms. For more information, see: uvwunion.org.uk/stmarysworkers
United Voices of the World (UVW) is a London-based trade union with 3000 members and around 200 joining every month. The majority of its members work in low-paid jobs and are migrants predominantly from Latin America and the Caribbean — with a growing number from Asia and Africa. In 2016, the union organised the largest cleaners strike in UK history and became the first trade union to force a UK university (the LSE) to bring the entirety of its outsourced cleaners in-house. It also organised one of the longest strikes in the history of the City of London, lasting 61 consecutive days. UVW also represents workers in the legal sector, charity sector, cultural sector, architectural sector, and sex workers too — all of whom are fighting against low pay, unpaid work and overwork.
St Mary’s workers will be joined by 6 other striking workplaces in what UVW has dubbed an “Autumn of Discontent”. This will include striking café workers from the University of Greenwich, security guards from St. George’s University, security guards from the University of East London, cleaners from London’s Royal Parks, the headquarters of ITV and Channel 4, and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).