Cleaners, porters and security staff striking for better pay staged an enthusiastic and lively protest in East London on Saturday
Alighting from Whitechapel tube and approaching The Royal London hospital, one could be forgiven for thinking they were approaching a carnival, as the energy and spirit of hundreds of hospital staff and their supporters infectiously roused passers-by.
Cleaners, porters and security staff who have recently had their NHS contracts handed over to multinational firm Serco Group plc galvanised an inspiring level of support from LSE and SOAS cleaners, teachers, NHS doctors, nurses and even BA Flight attendants, who all came out in an incredible show of solidarity with them.
Cars (and NHS ambulances!) beeped their horns furiously, whistles blew rhythmically, and reggae music provided the energising tempo for this upbeat demonstration of resilience in a group of a predominantly underpaid and disenfranchised migrant workforce.
Serco was announced to have secured a £600million contract to provide “Soft Facilities Management Services” for the Bart’s group in December 2016. Bart’s Health NHS Trust is now the biggest merged “super Trust”, made up of several hospitals providing healthcare to over 2.5 million people in East London.
The successful takeover bid for this multinational giant to secure control of vital services like cleaning, catering and security is just the latest in a long list of examples of the acceleration of outsourcing and privatisation in the NHS. Since 2012, when the NHS was opened up to the international private insurance company market by the Health and Social Care Act introduced by the coalition government, the numbers of contracts going out of the NHS to the private sector has doubled.
Serco has a history of shoddy and dangerous provision the NHS, with fraudulent activity and dangerous clinical staffing. In 2013 it emerged that they had cut GPs providing out-of-hours services so that just one GP was covering the entirety of Cornwall. Public pressure after thiswas leaked by whistleblowing staff forced them to pull out.
They also have a pretty abysmal history in security services, with a record of charging for electronically tagging offenders who were in fact dead.
With this kind of history it is no surprise to hear that within just 4 months of Serco taking overfacilities services in Bart’s, the previously public NHS staff were told that their teabreaks would be stopped, workloads would be increased and nearly a third of porters would see their jobs cut.
This is the appalling treatment faced by staff who are already amongst the lowest paid in society andwho do one of the most vital and undervalued jobs in the NHS.
As a doctor, I know that patients’ lives are at risk without our cleaners. I could not manage or look after patients without our porters and security staff work tirelessly long hours to protect staff and patients alike in our hospitals.
It is no wonder to me then when told they are not worthy of a teabreak, when they are treated with contempt when they ask for a desperately needed 30p per hour payrise, and when the governmentdeems them “overpaid” when they earn £272 per week, that they are out on strike.
Serco made £82 million in profit last year, and their CEO is on almost £1,000,000. I agree with John McDonnell, who came to show his solidarity with the striking workers, when he said there is only one word to describe this: exploitation.
Serco staff have my full support, along with the support of many other NHS staff.
We must end the systematic privatisation of our public services and the exploitation of these hardworking and absolutely vital staff treated by contempt by these multinational profit-driven corporations.