Strikes at Queen Elizabeth Hospital over Two-Tier Workforce

Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust:

Following a 24-hour strike on October 8, the GMB has called for a further two 24-hour strikes on November 24 and 25, of its members working for private contractor ISS at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich, over the two-tier workforce being created within the NHS. Over 240 GMB members working for ISS, who provide the security, portering, switchboard, meals and cleaning at the hospital, took part in the 24-hour strike on October 8.

ISS, which employs approximately 47,200 throughout Britain, pays the workers at the QEH, Woolwich, between £7.10 and £7.32 per hour, where the lowest rate of pay for staff directly employed by the NHS is £7.33 per hour. This base minimum will rise in yearly increments to £7.51 and then £7.69, under the current NHS pay progression system. Further, ISS staff who work unsocial hours get as little as between 90p – £2.05 per hour in addition, whereas as directly employed staff, they would be entitled to time and a half. Also, ISS staff who work on Saturdays are paid time and a quarter, whereas directly employed staff are paid time and a half. When they work on a Sunday or a bank holiday, they get time and a half. Again, as NHS staff, they would be paid double time. ISS also pay less than the statutory sick pay allowance for weekends.

Meridian Hospitals PLC, which is the PFI operator for the hospital, must engage in negotiations to settle the dispute. As the PFI operator Meridian subcontracts ISS to carry out the “soft facilities management” work at the hospital and therefore controls the purse strings. Meridian Hospitals paid £2,772,000 in dividends last year.

Those GMB members employed directly by the NHS will be striking in the national pay dispute between 7-11am on November 24. In fact, eleven trade unions representing NHS workers including nurses, midwives, cleaners, pharmacists, scientists, porters, secretaries, paramedics, occupational therapists, radiographers, dieticians, healthcare assistants, kitchen and maintenance staff will participate in the four-hour stoppage. There will also be action short of strike around this date. The POA (the professional trades union for prison, correctional and secure psychiatric workers) and MiP (Managers in Partnership) are also on strike.

Those GMB members employed by ISS at the QEH are holding the two further days of strike action on Monday 24 and Tuesday 25 starting at 6am on the Monday and finishing at 6am on the Tuesday.

Nadine Houghton, GMB Regional Officer, said, “GMB members working for ISS have decided to stage another walk out over the failure of the Trust, the PFI operator Meridian and ISS to pay staff the correct pay and terms and conditions.” The GMB says that there was a “tripartite meeting” held on November 13 between the GMB, the Trust, ISS and Meridian. However, no offer was made at this meeting and the clear message was that “those with the cash to resolve this aren’t as interested in settling the dispute as they should be”. The GMB officials said, “They gave us assurances they were working on the figures to make us an offer but failed to give us anything concrete.”

The GMB first wrote to the Trust and ISS concerning this issue in April. However, it is only now, seven months later in November, after a 24 hours stoppage in October, that they have “actually got round the table with us”. “That is why members are staging these next two days of strike action.”

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