Dozens of hospital staff who worked throughout the pandemic as key workers to keep patients and other staff safe are launching strike action at Great Ormond Street hospital this week.
The dispute has come about after previous calls for equality of terms were ignored or deferred, according to UVW, and workers have said they just want the hospital to “talk about the way forward”.
As outsourced workers, the security staff are not employed directly by the NHS, but by a private firm, Carlisle Security Services, which is owned by Conservative donor Lord Ashcroft.
Despite working in the same hospital, the outsourced security staff don’t receive full sick pay, an unsociable hours allowance and a number of other benefits, which staff employed directly by the hospital do.
When the staff have put their case the either the hospital or their official employer, they’ve been told in each case that the other is ultimately responsible.
When NHS staff received a 3% rise, which itself was widely criticised as insufficient by trade unions, outsourced security guards did not receive the same increase.
The workers’ calls for better pay and conditions have become more pressing in the context of a cost-of-living crisis.
This was despite working throughout the pandemic and taking on additional risks and responsibilities, including transporting at-risk patients.
Erica Rasheed, security guard for GOSH and a UVW member said: “It is hard to believe, but I do not get full sick pay. This means I can’t afford to take sick leave and if I go to work when ill I put myself and others in danger. And if I stay at home – I don’t make rent.”
Another security guard and UVW member, Peter Akintoye, said all the striking workers want is to meet with the hospital and “talk about the way forward”.
He said: “We want everyone to know that all we are requesting is fairness. That’s all. We want GOSH to listen to us, and to see things from a different perspective so that we can sit down and talk about the way forward. We wish we didn’t have to strike but they have left us with no choice.”
The walkout will last six weeks, in what is thought to be one of the longest NHS strikes in history, and a rally to support the workers will take place outside the hospital at 12pm next Thursday (3 February).
As well as industrial action, UVW members are planning on launching a legal challenge against the hospital for indirect race discrimination.
Rasheed says that because the majority of the outsourced security staff are from BAME backgrounds while many of the other staff are not, the differences in their contracts “can even mean its racial discrimination”.
She said: “Ever since I joined this hospital, Great Ormond Street, we have been outsourced, so this means we have been connected to a private company. We have different work conditions, different contracts from our colleagues, the NHS staff.
“We feel that is very unfair, very unjust and this can even mean that it’s racial discrimination.
She added: “And why is that? Because most of us are from Asian and Black backgrounds.
A spokesperson for GOSH told NationalWorld that the hospital outsources its security staffing to specialist companies to “meet regulatory requirements and provide staff, patients and families with a professional, resilient service”.
They said: “We have seen on social media that industrial action is planned at GOSH and will do everything we can to minimise disruption to the children, young people and families who rely on our hospital.”
UVW’s general secretary, Petros Elia, said that hospital trustees have failed to respond to the union’s attempts to resolve the dispute.
Elia said: “Despite repeated attempts to talk to GOSH Trustees we have been met with silence. That’s why our members will be going on strike which GOSH has had every opportunity to avert. And our members will have our full support to fight for as long as it takes until they win what they deserve: Dignity and Equality.
“The security guards have consistently shown they will go above and beyond when needed, now is the time for the bosses at GOSH to do the same and give these workers the contracts they deserve.”
Carlisle Security Services were approached for comment on this article.