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Posted on 8 April 2017 at 15:09 GMT

Victory! Health workers walk out against attack from new boss

Health workers marching on the demo for the NHS, 4.3.17, photo Mary Finch

Health workers marching on the demo for the NHS, 4.3.17, photo Mary Finch   (Click to enlarge)

Waltham Forest reporters

Health workers are ready to defend their rights! That was the unmistakable message from the 160 domestics who walked off the floor at the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel, part of Barts Trust, London, on Thursday 6 April.

Their new employer, the privateer vulture contractor Serco, thought it could set the tone for workplace relations by withdrawing the 15 minute paid morning tea-break on its first day. But Serco had another think coming! By 4.30pm Serco said it was going to 'consult' on the plan and would hold off. Workers will now need to organise to make this retreat permanent.

The backdrop to Serco's attempted onslaught is what the Telegraph described as "onerous contracts that have been a drain on the company's profits". It clearly thought this £600 million contract could boost its profits - especially by squeezing more out of the workers.

At Whipps (also part of the Barts NHS Trust) Unite members won a fantastic victory ending zero-hours contracts and winning a 20% pay-rise for low-paid workers bringing them up to the London living wage under contractors Carillion. Carillion was then dismissed and the contract given to Serco. Carillion had even interviewed workers but didn't proceed to selection stage when they got the news that they'd lost the business.

Serco now seem to be labouring under the impression that they can just roll back these gains. At Whipps this vicious profiteer is looking to make cuts to hours, pay and jobs.

But Unite the Union has been building on the victory at Whipps to show what's possible. Following the Whipps win (of £9.75 per hour, as much as £2 per hour increase for many) this was then fought for and won for all agency and bank workers indirectly employed by Serco in Barts, Mile End and Royal London hospitals who had in some cases been on minimum rates for six years. Also benefiting were workers on permanent contracts whose combined hourly rate and London weighting element was under £9.75.

Unite have been building across the Barts Trust, organising a pay campaign which given the pay freeze in the NHS is a big issue for all health workers. 500 new members have joined the union in the last months. The news that the nurses' union RCN is also considering a strike ballot over pay is a further indication of the readiness to fight among health workers.

Unite has submitted a 30p/hour pay claim to Serco from 1 April. The failed attack on the domestics' tea breaks was possibly an early test of whether workers and union would fight. Serco, while acknowledging the pay claim, have not as yet responded and the union branch is looking to ballot for strike action, subject to agreement at the upcoming branch meeting.

Following the fantastic communities-led 'Save our NHS' march on 4 March, a massive TUC national demonstration to save the NHS - mobilised for by all trade unions and by the Labour leadership - would give confidence to all workers fighting for our NHS.


Meeting: Fight for pay, jobs and services! Fight to save the NHS!

Hospital workers and all others interested are welcome to come to an informal discussion in the Whitechapel Ideas cafe, across the road from the Royal London, at 6pm on Wednesday 12th April.
Discuss with Len Hockey, Unite union branch secretary at Whipps Cross hospital (personal capacity) and other Socialist Party members.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 8 April 2017 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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