Low paid hospital staff, supported by their union GMB, are stepping up protests against the management methods of outsourcing giants Interserve and ISS which hold cleaning, catering and portering contracts at the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust.
At University Hospital Lewisham, which was saved from closure by a protracted community campaign involving thousands of people across the borough, staff are angry at being denied the London living wage, understaffing, and payment errors.
The Lewisham staff, who are employed by Interserve, have also discovered that their hourly pay is less than their fellow workers doing similar jobs at the trust’s other hospital, the Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich.
Interserve’s services contract is set to run out by early 2020 and is unlikely to be renewed after the group went into administration in mid-March. It was quickly resurrected and sold to two US hedge funds and bank creditors.
“It just seems like a further sign of how our public services are being run down,” says Barbara Plant, GMB’s national president (and a Ladywell resident). “It is a race to the bottom. These services are better kept in-house.”
The union says Lewisham’s porters, cleaners and caterers are paid about £8 an hour during the week – one of the lowest hourly rates in hospitals in south east London.
“Wages are so low that workers have to take on overtime … lots of overtime leads to exhausted workers … who make mistakes that have a negative impact on patients,” says Helen O’ Connor, GMB regional organiser.
The London Living Wage, the union’s target, is £10.55 an hour.
Staff employed by ISS at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital have been protesting against an inadequate sick pay scheme and staff shortages.
Last month ISS made life even harder for low paid workers by announcing it was making changes to its pay cycle, meaning many cash-strapped staff will be without their pay for up to three weeks at the end of April.
Many hospital workers are now worried that they will be unable to pay rent and feed their families, say union officials.
ISS has offered staff interest free bridging loans to get over the difficult “pay harmonisation” period. GMB has urged ISS to advance wages to hourly paid workers in order to change the pay cycle.