Royal London Hospital catering workers picket line Royal London Hospital catering workers picket line. Photo: Jamal Elaheebocus

Catering workers at the Royal London Hospital are standing together against Serco, reports Jamal Elaheebocus from the picket line

The picket line of striking catering workers at the Royal London Hospital was very energetic, with striking workers hooting horns and playing music from loudspeakers.

Strikers gave out leaflets outside the hospital before marching around the hospital, holding placards saying “No more bullying at Serco” and waving Unite flags.

These workers are on strike for five days this week. They are striking against Serco bosses, who have imposed a new roster with irregular shifts spread across 15 weeks, including split rest days. This has meant that many workers have not been able to arrange childcare and has had a huge impact on the personal lives. They are also striking because of management bullying, including the aggressive use of sickness absence.

One striking worker explained to us why they are taking strike action:

“It’s down to management bullying and not being treated fairly in the department. Also they have been using sickness absence to trigger sicknesses. We have not been able to have a work-life balance, not been able to look after kids after-school… even learning different stuff [on college courses], we’re not being allowed to go and do that.”

He explained that this was because of the new roster that has been imposed:

“The rosters have been set as a 15-week roster and everyone’s been given four shifts. Some of those shifts are not suitable for some staff and some people can’t make it to early shifts, some can’t do late shifts. What we’ve tried to explain to our managers is that certain people have got certain concerns and they’re not really looking at it respectfully.”

“They [management] are saying take it or leave it. They said to us if you can’t do it, then you’ll have to take redundancy, and they’ve left us in a position where we’ve just got to fight for ourselves.”

Many other strikers expressed their anger at management’s bullying and the imposition of the roster, which they said has meant they are working far longer hours.

The strike has received widespread support from other catering workers and hospital staff more widely:

“The support is huge as you can see. We’ve got the majority of staff out here, 17 out of 19 staff are out here so we’re doing well with attendance so far. It’s only the second day so we can hopefully get better than what it is now.”

“We’ve got support from the ward hosts, from domestics, the porters. They’re giving us 100% support.”

The striking workers will be out on the picket line every day this week from 6-11am and will be holding a rally on Thursday 24 June at 12pm, outside the Dental School at Royal London hospital. They are very keen for other trade unionists and NHS workers to come to the protest and show solidarity.

There are currently discussions about more strike action being taken and the possibility of strikes to bring outsourced services inhouse.

The workers’ message to other NHS and public sector workers is clear: “Stand up for yourselves and stand together against Serco.”

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