Barts workers on the picket line. Photo: Ellen Graubart Barts workers on the picket line. Photo: Ellen Graubart

Cleaners, porters, and catering staff in Barts NHS Trust have won a deal after 24 days of strike action and plenty of protest

After a summer of discontent and 24 days of strike action for better pay and conditions, the courage and persistence of poorly paid workers, members of Unite the Union (caterers, cleaners, porters, and security staff) at the St. Barts NHS Trust have finally paid off. By standing up to their employer, the global corporation SERCO, they have now secured a better deal on pay and better treatment at work.

SERCO had consistently refused to listen to the workers’ demands for decent working conditions and a very small pay rise of 30p an hour – from a company that made profits of over £80m last year. Many of the workers have had to take on extra jobs to survive.

The discontent began back in December 2016 when the so-called ‘soft services’ (catering, cleaning, security and portering) were transferred from the NHS to the private sector in a deal which cost the taxpayer £600 million and resulted in large profits for a company which provides public sector services globally and has been involved in a series of scandals relating to fraud and bad management. Since SERCO took over they have cut jobs at Whipps Cross Hospital, attempted to abolish tea breaks, increased the workload to unsustainable levels and continued zero-hours contracts in spite of a commitment not to.

The Barts NHS Trust workers have had great support and sympathy from the public. A thousand people marching along with John McDonnell to Parliament Square with the People’s Assembly on Saturday July 1st in support of low-paid health workers in the East London Barts NHS, the fact that that two of their reps were interviewed by Channel 4 News, plus their industrial action and very reasonable demands getting wide press and social media coverage must have somewhat pierced the thick skin of the global giant.

In the press release from Unite, Peter Kavanagh, Unite regional secretary for the London and Eastern region said:

“After several days of negotiations we have reached a deal which puts some money in workers’ pockets and addresses the poor treatment of the workforce which was a major reason for the strike action.”

“The agreement will address the very real problems involving workloads and working conditions and also mean an immediate start to the next round of pay negotiations.”

“Our members have stood together and fought a long and dignified campaign to secure commitments from Serco on pay and conditions. They have already secured the London Living Wage and successfully campaigned for an end to zero hour contracts.”

The deal is somewhat below the original demands, so they perhaps could have escalated things further and won a better deal, but this is undoubtedly a big step forward, and a sign of things to come. 

76 per cent voted in favour of the deal. 

Ellen Graubart

Ellen Graubart was born in India of American parents and came to London from Virginia as a teenager to study art. She lives and works as an artist in Hackney. She is a member of Counterfire, Stop the War and Hackney Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

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