Low-paid and migrant workers are at the sharp end of cuts and privatisation in the NHS. They face rocketing workloads and bullying bosses. But across north east London 1,000 porters, domestics and cleaners are taking on a multinational to demand higher pay—and showing how to fight, reports Tomáš Tengely-Evans
When Serco grabbed a new hospital cleaning contract in April, it didn’t reckon it would be facing a series of strikes just three months later.
The multinational giant runs facilities services, such as cleaning, kitchens and security, at Barts Health NHS Trust covering north east London.
But its low-paid, largely migrant workforce was set to begin a week-long walkout across four hospitals on Tuesday of this week.
Their fight shines a light on how the Tories are breaking up and privatising our NHS for the profit of a few large multinationals.
Marjorie works as a domestic worker at the Royal London Hospital in Tower Hamlets. “They are making money off us, off our suffering,” she told Socialist Worker. “They don’t treat us with any respect—we’re not people to them.
“We’re the ones that clean the shit and they treat us like shit—we deserve to be paid properly.”
Geraldine, another domestic worker, agreed. “If you speak up they just say, ‘We’ll sack you’. How’s that showing us any respect?
“You have no right to say anything to the management, they want us to be scared.”
The Unite union members are fighting for a pay rise of 30p an hour, but their grievances go much deeper. Since Serco took over from another profiteer, Carillion, things have got worse.
A big part of this is making workers do jobs that were previously done by other health workers who are on a higher pay band.
Marjorie explained, “Jobs such as cleaning the medical equipment used to be done by health care assistants.
“Now when they’re finished they just go home, but we’re expected to stay and carry on with everything. They’ve just added more jobs for us.”
Ava described what an average day could look like for one of the domestic workers with their increased workload.
“Some wards have 25 patients on them and one person is responsible for all of them,” she told Socialist Worker. “You have to serve every one of the patients the main course, the afters, do the washing and then clean the kitchen.
“You don’t have time for a break—and when you go home you’re really tired and can’t really do anything.”