Outsourced workers at Queen Elizabeth Hospital strike for equal pay and rights

Submitted by AWL on 3 November, 2014 - 1:02

On 8 October, outsourced workers – cleaners, caterers, switchboard workers, seamstresses, porters and others – employed by ISS at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, South London, struck for the same pay and conditions as directly employed workers.

To find out more about the dispute, visit their page on the GMB Southern region website. To make a donation to their strike fund, scroll down to the bottom of the page. Messages of solidarity and requests for more info to nadine.houghton@gmb.org.uk

The workers are in talks with management and will be deciding their next course of action soon. Below is an interview with one of their reps.

How did the dispute come about?

In March the full-time GMB officer who works with us asked us if there was any campaign we wanted to start at the hospital. We raised the issue of [NHS pay and conditions agreement] Agenda for Change – as outsourced workers we don't receive the full pay, overtime and other rights that we would under that deal if we were directly employed.

We worked with the full-time officer to organise a recruitment campaign and things like an open day for ISS staff to come and talk to us. We put out flyers about the issues and at that point ISS management called us in. They told us that if you want this, you need a “tripartite meeting” with us and the NHS Trust. They wished us good luck! We chased the trust but they stopped responding and after a while it was clear we were being palmed off.

Once we called a strike for 8 October, we were asked to cancel and meet them. Our strike committee said we'd cancel depending on what offer they put on the table. We gave them until 10pm on Tuesday 7th, but there was no offer so we went ahead.

How do you think the campaign has gone so far?

I've been pleasantly surprised by the response. There are 380-plus stuff employed by ISS at QE – when we began we had less than 40. We're now up to over 240. New people keep joining all the time.

Our strike definitely had an impact. They brought in some people from all over the country, but they weren't trained to do our jobs. We had a big presence outside the hospital, with several pickets, and now members are asking when our next strike day will be.

Have any of your members been on strike before?

A few of us were around for the NHS strike in 1988, but for most people this is a new thing.

How are you making decisions?

We've set up a strike committee with open meetings every other week. We usually get 20 to 30 members along. It's a democratic set up and our full-timer has been very responsive: she's said it's your strike, you decide.

What are you planning next?

Two strikes days in November, dates to be confirmed soon. So more support and solidarity would be very welcome.

Have you had support from other unions?

Unite at Lewisham Hospital [which is part of the same NHS trust as QEH] have been supportive. Their branch secretary came down for our picket lines and we've got plans to go over and speak to their members about doing a similar campaign. Unfortunately Unison have just ignored us. I should say again that our GMB officer has been great, very supportive, around all the time and up early with us on strike day.

Because we're outsourced we weren't part of the national pay strike [on 13 October] but quite a few of us went to the picket lines before work to give our support.

Do you see this as part of a wider issue about the NHS?

I think so. I think it should all be taken back in house. We've got three contractors at QE. Outsourcing and PFI is how these companies make money – it's private profit rather than going to the NHS. Of course if we had NHS wages and conditions it wouldn't be so attractive for them.

What can people do to support you?

We appreciate all the support we get. We think our demands are pretty reasonable - we're only asking for what NHS workers get under Agenda for Change.

Messages of support are good. At risk of sounding cheeky, we've also got a strike fund, and donations are much appreciated. Are members are not paid at a lot and some people don't work many hours, so striking is not easy financially. Also, people should feel free to come down to our picket lines. We really appreciated it when you [South London Workers' Liberty people] and other people turned up. It's good that the young people you brought were impressed. Next time we hope to have an even bigger turnout so bring more people to see what we can do!

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