“It should be an absolute scandal that the mainly black, Asian and ethnic minority SERCO staff working for Bart’s Trust are paid up to 15 per cent less than directly employed NHS workers.”
By Apsana Begum MP.
I began this week by joining a vibrant picket line outside Royal London Hospital – kickstarting two weeks of strike action by hundreds of outsourced NHS workers regarding pay and exploitation.
The drums, dancing, banners and chants of “Serco Out” and “Low pay, No way” have continued throughout the week in what is a truly inspirational struggle against injustice.
In a strike ballot held back in November 2021, porters, security, catering and reception staff at St Barts, Royal London and Whips Cross hospitals in London, employed by Serco, voted by 97 percent to reject the company’s 3 percent pay offer – a cut in real wages with the Bank of England warning inflation will hit 7.25% by April.
These Serco workers face the same risks as directly employed NHS staff, but they are all too often treated disgracefully – with reports of the draconian use of sickness and disciplinary policies, bullying by management and unmanageable workloads being rife.
It should be an absolute scandal that the mainly black, Asian and ethnic minority SERCO staff working for Bart’s Trust are paid up to 15 per cent less than directly employed NHS workers.
Yet, we know that Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and women workers continue to face the disproportionate burden of working in insecure jobs, with fewer rights at work and ongoing pay gaps. Meanwhile, Serco, who have a poor record when it comes to Government contracts to put it mildly, continue to make billions.
Indeed, the Government are determined to continue siphoning-off huge sums of public money to a handful of outsourcing companies increasingly without competition, rigor or accountability.
The restructure set out in the Health and Care Bill would loosen competition rules further – risking even more outsourcing to private providers.
While profits are prioritised over the quality of service, a two-tier work force is created. The strike by Barts workers is part of a growing wave of pay struggles. Bus drivers, airport ground crew, drivers, railway cleaners, and warehouse workers are all currently in dispute.
Across the UK there is a real sense of defiance in workplaces fueled by desperate situations.
The covid-19 crisis has highlighted the brutal reality of insecure work and has exposed the systemic failures of the law around worker protections. With already soaring in-work poverty, many workers are now facing the brutality of the cost-of-living squeeze.
The rise and rise of workplace precarity – zero hours contracts, bogus self-employment, and contracting out – puts workers at risk and are a threat to our existing health and safety laws, and to achieving equal rights at work.
The NHS workers taking strike action have my unwavering support – whether that’s in Parliament or on picket lines.
All NHS workers, including those working for outsourced services, have worked tirelessly through the pandemic despite the failures at all levels that have contributed to thousands of staff dying across all sections of various workforces, and they deserve better.
Serco and Barts must deliver a pay increase that addresses the poor pay and the inequality of treatment compared to directly employed NHS staff at other hospitals in London.
More fundamentally, Barts Health NHS Trust now have an opportunity to bring these workers back into NHS employment. Because a publicly owned, publicly run and publicly accountable NHS is the only way to deliver what is best for NHS workers and patients alike.
- Apsana Begum MP has tabled EDM 930 “Industrial action at Barts Health NHS Trust which has been signed by 29 MPs to date: https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/59429/industrial-action-at-barts-health-nhs-trust
- For More information about the strike: https://www.unitetheunion.org/news-events/news/2022/january/serco-outsourced-workers-at-barts-begin-a-two-week-strike-on-monday/
- Apsana Begum is the MP for Poplar and Limehouse, you can follow her on Instagram, Facebook and twitter.