Patients at the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel, East London, are facing the prospect of ‘food chaos’ later this month, after workers employed by troubled outsourcing giant Serco voted for strike action.
The workers, who are members of Unite the union, are based in the hospital’s back of house catering department. They play a key role in ensuring that meals are prepared and delivered to patients on the wards.
The dispute is a result of bullying from management and the introduction of a disastrous new roster system that has severely impacted the workforce’s personal lives. Unite has been seeking to resolve these matters since July 2020.
The workers overwhelmingly voted for strike action in April. Since then Unite has been seeking to avoid industrial action, but negotiations with Serco have stalled and an initial five days of strike beginning on Monday 21 June have been called. Further strike dates are likely if the dispute is not resolved.
The bullying by management concerns the aggressive use of sickness absence triggers and the abuse of power in the allocation of shifts and holidays, which has left members at breaking point, during the pandemic.
On top of this, the workforce had an unworkable rota system imposed on them, with irregular shifts spread across 15 weeks, including split rest days. As a result workers have found it impossible to arrange childcare, and some have been prevented from completing college courses.
Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon said, “The initial strike action will inevitably cause food chaos at the Royal London hospital, with patients facing long delays before food is delivered.
“Our members are dedicated to the patients and are taking this strike action as an absolutely last resort,” she added.
“Unite has been trying to resolve the systematic bullying of our members and the unworkable rota for nearly a year but Serco’s management has failed to engage with the union and resolve this dispute,” Hydon continued.
“Even at this very late stage strike action can be avoided if Serco returns to the negotiating table and brings forwards solutions to the bullying and rota problems.”
The Royal London hospital dispute is one of four current disputes involving Unite members and Serco. Workers employed by the company, operating tug boats in Plymouth Devonport, are taking strike action today (June 8) in a long running dispute over dangerous work rotas.
Serco workers employed in Ealing on the council’s outsourced parking enforcement contract are set to begin a further 72 hours strike tomorrow (June 9) in a dispute over union busting. Meanwhile, refuse workers in Bexley, South London, employed by Serco are currently being balloted in a dispute over pay and the unfair treatment of workers.
By Barckley Sumner