Croydon University Hospital Croydon University Hospital. Photo: Kake / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked below article

GMB organiser Helen O’Connor explains why hospital porters and domestic workers will be protesting against their employer on Monday 31 January

I first met Croydon University Hospital porters and domestics before the pandemic struck. Without these vital workers, many of whom are migrants, the hospitals would grind to a halt, so they have industrial power. G4S does not value these workers and they do not recognise their union of choice, GMB.

For years these workers have struggled to survive on the minimum wage and they don’t get decent sick pay. They complain about huge workloads and the usual petty minded bullying meted out by private-company managers, who want to squeeze human labour and pay pittance for it. Most are desperate for overtime hours because the pay is so bad, but none will be given on the same day, making it very difficult for these workers to balance their lives.

Workers reported that they are afraid to go into the Covid wards in case they pick up the illness and are unable to work, because they won’t get a penny from G4S. Some have gone off sick with injuries and G4S has not paid Statuary Sick Pay. One worker was left at home struggling with breathing difficulties for weeks with no money. The poverty pay, also known as the minimum wage, left one woman crying when she moved home and she was faced with an electric bill for £150. Another member struggles to afford to buy formula for his new baby. Many are forced to pay thousands to get work visas renewed. To add insult to injury, there is a two-tier workforce and some older employees get full NHS sick pay, good unsocial-hours pay and additional pay enhancements, but these better-paid G4S workers also think that the way the company operates is unfair.

Organising and solidarity

GMB organised open meetings and the workers engaged well. Once they realised that joining the union would enable them to build power with the weight of the GMB behind them, they started to join the union.

Their numbers are growing, so they can make demands for pay justice, and they have decided to engage in a GMB backed campaign to secure the real London living wage and an occupational sick-pay scheme. They have agreed to have a protest outside the hospital on Monday 31 January from 12pm, and GMB Southern Region is supporting them. These workers know that they are in for a hard struggle, but they are undeterred as they are taking ownership of their own campaign by leafleting and talking to their colleagues.

Day by day their confidence grows from the solidarity they are getting. They are being backed by campaign groups like Keep Our NHS Public, and other workers within the hospital, who have pledged to support their struggle. The Doctors Local Negotiating Committee (LNC) is openly supporting the G4S workers, and they have written to the trust to intervene and resolve the injustices.

Managers who have ignored these workers’ concerns for years are starting to get the message that things are changing. GMB has been asked to call off the protest by the company, but our members have made their demands loud and clear, and they won’t stop until they are offered the London living wage and a sick-pay scheme

As the workers grow in confidence, the mood at the hospital is positive and infectious. Every worker is stepping up to help to carry out the tasks that are necessary to build their union in their hospital. As the organising work progresses, these workers will develop trade-union skills, and solidarity will grow even further. They will find that if they stick together, they can leverage the type of power that will benefit themselves and everyone else too.

They will not only set an example of what trade unionism should look like in the NHS, they will preserve and protect standards in the hospital for patients by struggling for their own rights. This is why everyone, in and outside the hospital, must get firmly behind this dispute and support these brave GMB Members because the cause of labour is the hope of the world.

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