More than 700 Unite members walked out of their jobs yesterday during the biggest NHS strike of the year.
Hundreds of cleaners, porters and security guards began four days of industrial action over pay at four Barts NHS Trust hospitals in London.
The low-paid staff – employed by Serco at the Barts, Mile End, Whipp’s Cross and Royal London hospitals – are striking for a 3 per cent pay rise which would increase their hourly wage by 30p.
As well as picketing all sites, the workers also held a rally at London Royal Hospital and vowed further action if their demands are not met.
Serco won a £600m soft services contract for Barts Health NHS Trust last year. Despite making a profit of £82m per year, and paying its chief executive more than £1m a year, the company has refused to grant the pay rise.
Addressing the rally, hospital domestic Mary Agyei said, “We want fair pay. We demand the 3 per cent.
“Without cleaners and porters there is no hospital. It would be dirty and there would be infections. I am proud to be a domestic: we are important and we will fight until we get what we deserve.”
Unite regional officer Gloria Sindall accused Serco of time-wasting tactics, saying the firm invited the union to talks with the conciliation and arbitration service ACAS on 28 June despite having nothing to offer.
Living standards dropping
“Cleaners, porters and security staff have seen their real living standards drop year on year. Workers are now demanding a 30p per hour wage increase. Serco made over £80m in profit last year but managers are refusing to share these earnings fairly and protect the living standards of the workers,” Sindall said.
“Rather than try to settle this dispute the private contractor Serco wasted valuable time by offering absolutely nothing new for the workforce at talks with ACAS last week.
“Unite members are fed up and are preparing for a series of strikes to demand a fair and proper pay rise which recognises the contribution they make to Serco and to Barts.”
The action was well supported with picket lines at all sites and a march and rally at the Royal London.
The strikers marched along Whitechapel Road, chanting, “Serco, hear us,” “we want fair pay” and “the workers united will never be defeated.” Passing drivers showed their support.
A kitchen hostess, who asked not to be named, told the Morning Star she would “fight to my death for this pay rise.”
“We have too much work and don’t have enough staff or equipment. Things have got much worse for us since Serco took over. It was lovely before.”
Unite branch secretary Len Hockey said he was proud to be a striking porter. He told those gathered outside the Royal London, “This branch blew the whistle on a patchwork quilt of poverty pay and exploitation.”
Mr Hockey said that a 3 per cent pay rise was “a modest claim.” He added: “We will win, and I promise this will be a famous victory for the east London working class.
“The cap that is talked about by Theresa May doesn’t fit any more — and we won’t wear it.”
Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail brought a message of solidarity, telling the hospital workers that 1.5m Unite members “are standing behind you today.”
She said, “I thank you from bottom of my heart for the work that you do. Without you, the NHS wouldn’t work.”
Further strike action will also be planned for August and September.