Barts strike: Kent workers win – now Barts must ‘do the right thing’!

Domestics, porters, catering staff and other ‘soft facilities management’ workers at Barts NHS Trust, members of Unite, are embarking on their seventh tranche of strike action from 19-21 February. While there has been progress in talks on some of their demands, there is still more to be won.

The workers are demanding that they are all paid the Covid bonus that was paid to NHS staff last year. This group of workers successfully fought to be brought back into the NHS in 2023, but due to the bosses’ decision to stagger their entry, scandalously some of the workers were paid the bonus and others weren’t.

Barts Strikers at Canary Wharf HQ
Barts strikers at Canary Wharf HQ.
Photo: James Ivens

Barts workers have linked up with workers in Dudley and East Kent striking for the same thing.

Addressing a strike rally outside the Trust HQ in luxurious Canary Wharf, Unite branch secretary Len Hockey said:

“We were outsourced for 25 years, treated as profit fodder to pay dividends to shareholders, and so that the trust can make savings out of our worsening terms and conditions.

“The trust said ‘We are doing the right thing’ when they took us in-house. That implies they’d done the wrong thing for years. But taking us back in-house and then failing to pay the lump sum is unacceptable. We are ‘part of the Barts family’ we are told. Well, I would say we are in an abusive relationship until they make this payment!

“They say they have no authority to pay us. That their bosses in the Integrated Care Board and NHS England have to sign off for them to pay it. So, even if they had the money, they can’t pay it. And if they did pay it, other workers would want it as well.

“Too bloody right! Everyone who worked through the pandemic should receive that payment! And they say: ‘Then other trusts would be under pressure.’ Too bad!

“But now our sisters and brothers in Kent, 300 members striking – their trust has done a U-turn and is giving the lump sum. That blows the argument that trusts do not have discretion completely out of the water. You need to have the political will and the moral compunction to do it!”

Barts strike: ‘We take strike action because it wins!’

by Ian Pattison, London Socialist Party

Unite the Union organiser Onay Kasab had a message for striking NHS workers in East London. “The employer says it can’t pay you because it sets a precedent for other workers. That’s the bloody point!

Marching around the London Hospital
Marching round the Royal London.
Photo: Ian Pattison

“We take strike action because strike action works. Not because we’re desperate. But because it works. Because it wins.”

The noise was deafening as 100 striking Barts NHS Trust workers marched around Royal London hospital.

Domestics, porters, catering workers and more, who a year ago won being taken back into the NHS from private employer Serco, are now in their sixth tranche of strike action fighting for, among other demands, the lump-sum Covid bonus payment that was paid to NHS workers last year.

Onay brought a message from the union’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, saying: “You can be absolutely sure that Unite will do absolutely everything to ensure you win this dispute”

He added: “The letter from the employer [saying it can’t pay the lump sum], is rubbish. We’re going to carry on. We’re going to continue, and not stop until we win!”

Strikers speak

Len Hockey, Unite branch secretary at Barts NHS Trust, had a message from a worker who had just joined the strike: “I haven’t been on strike up until now. But the way they’re treating us in there on strike days, I’m joining the strike.”

Len also said: “Of course we’re setting a precedent. We’re raising the sights of other healthcare workers. We’re not going away. This issue is not going away. Our union is blazing a trail.

“For the employer, paying the money — it’s a choice.”

Striking worker Millicent said: “Everyone else got the lump sum. Why not you? We’re going to fight for it.”

Another striker Ellen said: “Don’t give up. You’re all legends. Continue to stand up and fight.”

Socialist Party member Rob Williams brought solidarity support from the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN). “You’re sending a message that you want to be treated like all NHS workers. It’s time the NHS delivered on that promise.

“I’ve just come via train from a protest opposing the closure of Port Talbot steelworks, my hometown. On both ends of that rail line, I see workers, Unite members, that are going to win a victory.”

  • On 1 February, Barts workers joined with low-paid security guards at Guys and St Thomas’s who are also fighting to beat back attacks on their terms and conditions

Barts NHS strikes: Unite will leave no stone unturned

by Len Hockey, Barts NHS Trust Unite branch secretary

Members spirits were good on the picket line at Whipps Cross Hospital on Monday 29 January, as Unite members began their sixth phase of strike action since September 2023. As well as pickets at three east London hospitals in Barts NHS Trust, a strike rally will take place. Among other demands, ex-Serco workers, whose strike action a year ago won them being brought back into the NHS, are fighting for the ‘Covid bonus’ lump sum paid to other NHS staff last year.

Whipps Cross picket Jan 2024
Whipps Cross picket, January 2024.
Photo: Martin Reynolds

Before Christmas, we took the fight to the door of the Department of Health, staging a lively demonstration. Our national officers do not accept the argument that the trust has no authority to pay the lump sum. Our branch has called on Barts bosses to escalate the issue to NHS England.

We will leave no stone unturned in the fight for justice for our membership. The fight for properly resourced patient care is intrinsically linked with the fight for properly rewarded and respected health workers.