Barts strikers fighting for the NHS

Determined Royal London Hospital workers on their picket line yesterday morning

WORKERS at the Barts group of hospitals in east London, began a 12 day strike yesterday, running until 17 November, fighting for safe staffing, fair pay and demanding ‘pay the lump-sum’.

The lively picket outside Royal London Hospital (RLH) comprised domestics, catering staff, patient ambassadors, porters, ward hosts, sewing room, security and pathology staff.

On 16 October, Unite union members unanimously agreed to further strike dates because management has not honoured the claim for the NHS allocated lump sum of £1,600 which has been paid to all other Barts staff but not to the many who transferred from privateer Serco employment onto the NHS Agenda for Change contract in May.

One of the domestics, Joanna, told News Line: ‘They paid everyone but not the domestics and catering staff. We joined the NHS in May. They knew for two years that we were joining. Those that joined in December and February got the money. Many of us have worked at this hospital for 10 years but were employed by private companies.

‘We worked during the Covid pandemic for Serco. We were working six days a week on 12 hours shifts for basic pay. They gave us a £70 bonus at the end and sent us a postcard thanking us for our hard work!  Now we are missed out.

‘After Covid, there were no more agency workers, so the extra work fell on those of us on contracts. We haven’t got enough staff. Each supervisor is supposed to look after two wards but often it is four. Often one person is doing the work that used to be done by two people.’

The following demonstrations have been planned by Unite: Wednesday 8th November at Royal Barts Hospital at 11.00; Wednesday 15 November at Whipps Cross Hospital at 11.00; Friday 17 November at Royal London Hospital 11.00.

A new development was pathology staff at Royal London hospital also coming out on a three day strike from Monday.

Nada, a biomedical scientist in pathology explained: ‘We’re fighting over pay and conditions. For patient safety we have got to have enough staff. They want us to do all sorts of ridiculous shifts including nights, earlies, days and weekends. The toilet facilities here are poor and there is no proper place to take a break.

‘They are trying to force us through a consultation to merge path labs with other hospitals. We already take specimens from five sites; RLH, St Barts, Newham, WhippsX and Homerton but they want to include Lewisham hospital and Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich. The RLH is the “hub” and the others are the skeletal “essential services labs”.

‘This would increase our workload and yet have the same number of staff. It also involves downgrading staff. Some staff from those hospitals would have to move.

‘Normally they should sit down and discuss with us. But they have just gone ahead and put out a new rota. They didn’t do due diligence. It is not just changing working hours but changing some people’s contracts.’

A senior biomedical scientist said: ‘They threatened us with our jobs if we came on the picket line. They are saving money at the expense of patients’ lives. You can’t run a safe service if you don’t look after your staff.

‘Staff are asked to work at different sites and work different shifts. Lots of people are happy doing all nights or all days, according to family priorities. The management want to get rid of the distinction between nights and days, so at any time you can be asked to do a night shift.’

BMA member Anna Athow said: ‘Shifting path labs out of District General Hospitals and centralising them, supposedly to save money, will result in a worse service as staff have to travel more and so will specimens, which will more easily get lost. Path labs should stay as integral parts of their own hospitals caring for their own patients – this change is a very retrograde step.’