Rallying at the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel Photo: James Ivens
Rallying at the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel Photo: James Ivens

Domestics, catering staff, porters and other ‘soft services’ workers, members of Unite, have begun 12 days of strike action in Barts NHS Trust, across five east London hospitals. This follows over a week of action in September and three days in October.

Over 1,000 workers are fighting over the national NHS pay award, but also over specific issues. These workers won a historic victory in 2022 when they were brought back in to the NHS from private company Serco, as a result of bold strike action. However, due to the staggered way in which Barts Trust decided to bring the workers over, some of them received a £1,655 lump sum paid to NHS staff, and others didn’t. So, among other demands, the strike is to call for the lump sum to be paid to all. 

The Tory government has just been forced through legal action to pay the one-off lump sum to health workers who missed out because they worked for non-NHS organisations. Workers such as community nurses and physiotherapists will now get the bonus.

This still doesn’t apply to Barts workers, as until they were brought back in-house their wages were not pegged to NHS rates. But this legal victory should nonetheless be a boost to Barts workers, as it shows the Tories can be pushed back.

Unite rep at Whipps Cross hospital in Leytonstone, Maria Talaia, spoke to the Socialist on the picket line

 We decided to take 12 days of strike action, because when we came out in September, they promised us they would talk but they didn’t come to us till now. We are striking for the lump sum, we are striking for dignity and respect.

When we transferred over, they put catering and domestics through in May. They put porters through first. So they paid porters the lump sum, but they didn’t pay us. And that’s totally unfair. They’ve also capped overtime to no more than ten hours.

But we are standing together. We are the ones who do the job. We are the ones on the front line. But the bosses don’t appreciate us. That’s why we decided to strike again.

More people are involved in the strike, more people have joined Unite. And if they don’t pay we’ll come again, and we’ll come again, until they pay.