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01.03.2023 / News / /

GOSH cleaners confront hospital in groundbreaking court case over ‘institutional racism’

“Although I am very nervous, I am standing up for my rights because we’ve been cheated for a very long time and this has made me feel very bad at work“

Genevieve, one of the claimants and a UVW member.

A group of brave cleaners and UVW members at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) are confronting their employer in court over indirect race discrimination, in the first time a claim of this type has been brought against an NHS Trust.

Today, 1 March 2023, begins a momentous ten-day tribunal hearing where GOSH faces a first of a kind group claim for indirect race discrimination brought by 80 Black, brown and migrant cleaners. The brave 80 cleaners, who are all Black, brown and migrant workers and members of United Voices of the World union (UVW), are claiming compensation in excess of £10 million for the years they were denied National Health Service (NHS) pay rates.

Speaking from the court, Genevieve, one of the claimants and a UVW member, said today: “Although I am very nervous, I am standing up for my rights because we’ve been cheated for a very long time and this has made me feel very bad at work. I hope we win the case, whatever happens my union is excellent, UVW always has our back and to GOSH, you need to do the right thing and recognise my union.”

For decades the cleaners were outsourced on lesser terms and conditions than other directly employed GOSH workers, which led to a dispute between UVW and GOSH in 2020 over the structural inequality the hospital workers have faced. In 2021, the GOSH cleaners forced the hospital to ditch its cleaning private contractor and employ them as NHS workers. The cleaners were brought in house last year following a successful UVW campaign.

Contracts for NHS staff are governed by the 2004 Agenda for Change (AfC) which provides  much better conditions than privately outsourced workers. Now, the cleaners want  compensation for the years they were employed privately under inferior terms. If the court finds in favour of the workers, each claimant could be awarded between £80,000 and £190,000 each. 

Genevieve says workers need to stick together: “The only way to fight discrimination at work is to get together and join a union. A union, like UVW, that will fight with you shoulder to shoulder. The cleaners at GOSH know this now. We stood firm and we fought to be brought back in house and we won. Now we will use the courts to right an injustice.”

This is the first time a lawsuit of this type has been brought against an NHS Trust. 

In December 2021, UVW helped outsourced Royal Park attendants win a landmark court case where an Employment Tribunal ruled that their lower pay was unlawful because it amounted to indirect race discrimination. This was such a pivotal win for UVW the British government has applied to intervene in the case to appeal against the Tribunal’s ruling. The appeal will be heard in April 2023. 

Petros Elia, general secretary for UVW, says UVW is committed to help workers organise against outsourcing“UVW is dedicated to organising workers to fight back against this practice and we’ve got the best record in the union movement for doing it through legal action such as the Royal Parks and strike action in University and hospitals. If we win it could lead to back pay for members exceeding £10 million cumulatively. But more importantly it could sound the death knell for the privatisation of facilities services in the NHS. I hope this claim will shine a light on the institutional inequality prevalent in the NHS, and other public sector institutions, that Thatcher mandated for 40 years ago, and encourage outsourced workers, regardless of race, to rise up and strike to win equality.”

UVW is hopeful the claim will succeed following the groundbreaking legal precedent set against the Royal Parks. The union has also launched several similar claims with St George’s University London which is currently being appealed. 

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