LOW-PAID hospital workers in east London, working for private contractors ISS Mediclean and Medirest have scored a victory in their fight for a living wage.
End low pay in the NHS
The contractors’ first response to the UNISON claim for parity with the ex-NHS workers, who had protected pay and conditions, was a miserable 7p an hour increase and a promise of £5 an hour by December 2003.
Under the threat of strike action, this offer was increased to £5 now and £5.10 in September, then £5.55 in April 2003 for porters. Domestics were offered £5 now and £5.35 in April 2003.
The improved offer was put to a mass meeting of the Whipps Cross workers on 22 May. Joint UNISON branch secretary Len Hockey told the socialist:
"The mood at the meeting was emphatic. The improved offer of £5 an hour vindicated our campaign and the meeting was packed.
"I wanted to make sure that everybody was able to express their views about the offer and about taking strike action but even I was a bit surprised how emphatic the mood was. The discussion lasted an hour an only one person spoke in favour of accepting.
"So we’ll be striking for 48 hours at Whipps Cross from 6am on 28 May to 6am on 30 May. We’re holding a lunchtime rally on the picket line and we’ll be sending a delegation to the evening rally.
"We’ve been organising low-paid staff in this hospital for a long time now, so our pay rates are slightly better than the nearby hospitals. Porters are on £4.73 and domestics on £4.62 an hour.
"When the porters took action on the eve of privatisation, when they wanted to sell us off to Tarmac, we had a successful event and got a powerful echo throughout the hospital. So I’m confident this action will continue to build our strength.
"This is new ground for the unions, it’s been difficult to organise amongst the contractors before. And those workers have had to overcome literacy and language problems, fear and even the difficulties involved with postal voting to return majorities for strike action – we only had three votes against in the strike ballot."
At the Mile End and St Clements hospitals, in Tower Hamlets, UNISON had to reballot after the employers questioned their membership figures. But the workers voted to strike and will be going out on 4/5 June.
At the Homerton hospital in Hackney, the workers have voted to accept the offer, which represents a 13% increase for them because of their lower pay rates – only £4.42 an hour. They haven’t been allowed on the company’s sick pay scheme before, they only had statutory sick pay, so this is a better deal.
Messages of support to: Len Hockey, UNISON office, 020 8535 6496. Unisonunion@tiscali.co.uk
Donations to "East London Healthworkers Solidarity Fund", UNISON office, Mile End Hospital, Bancroft Road, London E1 4DG.
From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, CWI in England and Wales.