Four hundred hospital workers employed by private contractor Serco are to strike following a ballot last week. Their demand for pay and conditions equal to that of staff directly employed by the NHS follows a similar deal in Birmingham last year at a hospital where non-medical services were managed by a different private contractor. Serco employs 400 staff at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, and is refusing to implement Agenda for Change pay rates (which would see basic pay rise from £4.85 an hour to £5.69, and holiday and sick pay entitlements nearly double) until it is re-imbursed by the NHS. But since Serco made a £57 million profit last year, the workers’ union Unison says it can afford to pay a living wage to their staff now.
Serco’s profits last year included £4.1 million as a share of a windfall made by the PFI consortium at Norfolk and Norwich, who re-negotiated the financing of the PFI project and pocketed £70 million between them as a result. This money is an obvious source of funding a revised pay deal.
The Government has promised to end the “two tier” workforce in public services. Private contractors paying lower wages and offering worse working conditions continue to undermine NHS agreements, though, and as yet no private contractor has agreed to implement Agenda for Change, the new NHS pay system. Although Agenda for Change has many weaknesses, and was rightly opposed by many healthworkers when it was introduced last year, it would represent a big improvement in pay and conditions for many private contractor staff. Forcing the contractors to honour the deal would be the first step towards making the government’s promises a reality.
Serco also employ NHS staff at two other hospitals, one in Scotland and one in Leicester. Unison members at both are discussing what action they can take to join in the campaign started by Norfolk and Norwich.