Strike action at the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel, involving back-of-house catering staff, has been suspended after outsourcing company Serco capitulated to most of the workers’ demands.
The workers took five days of strike last month to stop the new, unworkable roster system and also challenge bullying. Workers had been trying to resolve the issues for a year before walking out.
Following talks at the conciliation service Acas, Serco has now agreed to adopt a workable roster system, and the manager accused of bullying will be moved from the department and provided with training.
As a consequence, Unite has suspended the latest five-day strike, which was due to start on 5 July. A further five days of strike action are scheduled for Monday 12 July, but Unite will call off this action once the deal is finalised.
Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon said: “This is a tremendous victory for our members who have stood together and faced down Serco.”
Socialist Party members, including the workers’ union branch secretary Len Hockey, visited the picket lines every day.
Throughout the pandemic, these essential workers worked continuously helping the sickest and most vulnerable. Many of them contracted Covid, which put in danger not only themselves, but also their families and loved ones. Some of them paid for their dedication with their lives.
It was not the first time that outsourced Barts Serco workers have had to go on strike. In September 2017, after 24 days of strike action across four London hospitals, the ancillary workers managed to bring Serco to the negotiating table. Like now, the pickets were alive with chanting, singing, dancing, and speeches, and took part in joint action with other strikes in London.
The same determination to fight has seen the catering workers win this dispute too.
STOP PRESS 5 July 2021: Victory! Action gets results!
Royal London Hospital Strike action shows the way
30TH JUNE 2021
by James Ivens, East London Socialist Party
Striking workers at the Royal London Hospital are showing the way forward for the NHS unions.
Privatised catering workers in Whitechapel, east London have had enough. There’s too few staff and no respect.
Tight, inflexible rotas mean childcare and college courses become impossible to arrange. Workers no longer get a proper weekend, with days off separated. Bosses imposed this new rostering system with no consultation.
And outsourcer Serco, the employer, deals with problems by bullying the staff. Workers can expect to be punished in the already brutal rota, or face aggressive use of sickness absence policies.
These are workers who prepare and distribute food throughout the hospital. It’s one of countless crucial jobs for the health service. And like for so much of the working class, it’s put them at risk in the pandemic.
It is the working class in all sectors that has carried society through Covid. In workplaces on the front line of the pandemic short staffing, poverty pay, intolerable workload and management bullying are everywhere.
“We’re not asking for much” said Unite union rep John, rallying pickets on Friday 25 June. “We’re not even asking for pay” – although that could be the next fight, with outsourced workers’ wages 15% behind directly employed counterparts. “We want proper rosters, an end to bullying, and Serco out!”
Like the government, Serco has offered all its workers in the Barts health trust, which includes Royal London, St Bart’s and Whipps Cross hospitals, a derisory 1% pay offer. Unite is consulting all Serco members on whether they too are prepared to take strike action.
Early morning picket lines have reminded management of the workers’ presence, with deafening blasts on vuvuzelas and protest songs on the sound system. The first round of stoppages, Monday 21 to Friday 25 June, was rock solid. More action is planned for Monday 5 to Friday 9 July.
Serco management has tried to intimidate workers by filming picket lines and standing, sneering by their strike rally on Thursday 24 June. Strikers and supporters put them in their place with loud chants of “shame on you!”
The Royal London strike shows once more that when union leaders are willing to lead, workers are willing to fight. NHS union leaders nationally should take a leaf from the catering workers’ book.
Protests against Tory ruination of the health service are due on Saturday 3 July. A good start from the union leadership would be building towards national industrial action to win a 15% pay rise across the board.
NHS workers are tired and angry. A serious, fighting programme of action could give us a thousand Royal Londons, and rescue our health service from the Tories.
Outsourced London hospital workers fight for better pay
25TH JUNE 2021
by Jakub Kotwica, East London Socialist Party
Catering workers have walked out for five days at the Royal London Hospital, part of Barts NHS Trust in east London. The strike by members of Unite the Union is taking place across all shifts from 21-25 June. Each day of the strike there are lively picket lines near the front entrance of the hospital. And a rally was organised for Thursday 24 June at 12pm to support the striking workers, who are fighting to level their wages to the same as directly employed NHS workers doing the same job.Socialist Party members, including the workers’ union branch secretary Len Hockey, have visited the picket lines every day.
Throughout the pandemic, these essential workers worked continuously helping the sickest and most vulnerable. Many of them contracted Covid which put in danger, not only themselves, but also their families and loved ones. Some of them paid for their dedication with their lives.
Although the Covid-19 pandemic seems to slowly be getting more under control, and despite last year’s overwhelming praise for the commitment and value of essential workers, it is apparent that the conditions of their employment is only getting worse. Recently Serco, the private company contracted by Barts to provide catering services, forced on their employees rigid 15-week roster changes that scattered shifts and included split rest days.
As a result, workers have found it impossible to arrange childcare, and some have been prevented from completing college courses. This is taking place on top of the already aggressive use of ‘absence triggers’ and the abuse of power in allocation of shifts and holiday. All of which workers were enduring throughout the pandemic.
Strikers are asking Barts NHS Trust to support their key workers. On the picket lines they are handing out flyers, asking the community to write directly to senior managers of the trust, and encouraging everybody to take part in the NHS Barts board meeting that takes place on 7 July at 11am.
It is not the first time that outsourced Barts Serco workers have had to go on strike. In September 2017, after 24 days of strike action across four London hospitals, the ancillary workers managed to bring Serco to the negotiating table. Like now, the pickets were alive with chanting, singing, dancing, speeches, and took part in joint action with other strikes in London.
The same determination to fight can see the catering workers win this dispute too.
See Deal concludes Barts health strike – “We have raised our heads high” for more on the previous dispute