The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 67/No. 20           June 16, 2003  
 
 
UK hospital workers strike
against two-tier pay
(front page)
 
BY AURORA SHANNON  
AND ROSE KNIGHT
 
LONDON—Cleaners, porters, and catering staff working at Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone went on strike for 48 hours on May 28 and 29. They work for ISS Mediclean, which supplies staff for National Health Service hospitals. The workers, members of the union UNISON, are demanding a pay increase to 5.53 an hour and a guaranteed end to the two-tier wage scale. They are currently paid an average of 4.62 an hour.

The employer has offered them 5 an hour. Don Laidley, a porter who earns 4.73 an hour for a 40-hour week on shifts said, “5 is still not enough. It’s an insult, degrading money. People have got family, kids and bills to pay”. He added, “We won’t tolerate this any longer.”

The government’s moves to dismantle the public health-care system in the United Kingdom began with the contracting out of ancillary services to private firms. National Health Service (NHS) workers were forced to transfer to maintain their jobs, keeping their terms and conditions but at a lower rate of pay. They are entitled to a living allowance, overtime rates, sick pay, and pensions.

On the other hand, ISS workers who never worked for the NHS do not have these conditions. At a lunchtime rally, workers held up union placards against these two-tier conditions, demanding “Equal Pay, No Delay.”

The chief manager of the hospital, Peter Coles, promised that the employer would “try to achieve harmonization between the levels of pay for our own staff, and those employed by contractors, by April 2006.” He said “this will constitute a 44 percent pay uplift for the lowest paid staff over three years.”

During the strike, bosses were reported to have hired nonunion workers and paid them 10 an hour to cover the striking workers’ jobs. Strikers said some of these individuals walked out saying there was too much work to do.

Two years ago in Whipps Cross Hospital there were 61 UNISON members out of 360 workers employed by ISS. After a unionization drive this figure went up to 257—more than 71 percent.

“Being in the union you can see the difference,” said Rose Wollaston. “People are starting to think about pay, the lack of training, and our conditions.” Wollaston, a five-year union member, works part-time as a cleaner.

Len Hockey, joint branch secretary of the UNISON branch, pointed out that the majority of the workers involved in the strike were women who worked long hours, often holding down more than one job. Bisi Adeyinka, for example, has worked at Whipps Cross for 15 years and has been a union member since 1993. She explained that when she asked to go back to Nigeria for a holiday, the bosses told her she would get the sack, since contract workers have no holiday entitlements. When she returned, she joined the union and won her job back.

The strike is also about conditions at work. Nana Ama, who had been a ward cleaner at Whipps Cross for four months, said, “There’s too much work for one person—you have to clean wards with up to 35 patients. They want cheap labor”.

Pearl Hamilton commented “You have to do so many things and you don’t get nothing for it”.

Ancillary workers at Mile End and St. Clements hospitals in East London are on strike against their employer, Medirest.

Ancillary workers at three hospitals in Scunthorpe, Grimsby, and Goole went on strike for five days the previous week to win 5.03 an hour and equality with NHS staff. In Scotland 5,000 nursery nurses, members of UNISON, took part in a series of strikes two weeks earlier demanding a 35-hour week and a 4,000 a year pay increase.  
 
 
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