Labour Party joins unions in fight against controversial Homerton Hospital contract

© Lola McEvoy, GMB

The board of directors at  Hackney’s Homerton University Hospital Foundation Trust (HUHFT) is next week set to sign another contract for facility management with giant multinational ISS.

The board is so keen on continuing with ISS that it has made use of a controversial VEAT (Voluntary Ex-Ante Transparency) notice to bypass any new tendering process.

Barring drastic changes, the HUHFT board will on July 29 impose five more years of low pay on some 200 workers – cleaners, porters, catering and reception/security staff – who have surely proved themselves key workers against the backdrop of the Covid- 19 pandemic.

While all the workers have finally received the London Living Wage as an hourly minimum, they still make far less than the basic earnings of the worst paid NHS employees with worse terms and conditions generally. The pay gap is some £1,500 a year. Crucially, a majority have no contractual right to occupational sick pay with damaging implications for both worker and patient safety.

For all the rhetoric about supposed private sector efficiency and managerial expertise, underfunded NHS trusts outsource support staff jobs to squeeze labour costs. So how do the likes of ISS achieve their aim and turn a profit? In the case of
the Homerton, the contractor has apparently just shrunk the workforce.

At the time ISS took over the facility management contract in 2015, there were roughly 300 workers transferred; now the numbers employed have dropped by a third, topped up with 50 or so agency staff.

As workers leave in a sector notorious for high turnover they may not be replaced and if ISS hires new recruits they will be on one of its employment contracts, which don’t feature occupational sick pay or other TUPE-protected elements retained by some employees of the previous contractor, Medirest.

In short, ISS has slashed the pay bill and in the process increased the demands on a much reduced workforce.

There are numerous unanswered questions about why the HUFT Board is sticking with ISS through 2025 despite offers of advice and support from Hackney Council, which has brought back ‘in house’ several contracts in recent years. Mayor Phil
Glanville and Labour councillors have joined local MPs Diane Abbott and Meg Hillier, and hundreds of local party members in backing the joint GMB and UNISON campaign started late last year to bring the current ISS workforce back into direct NHS employment on full Agenda for Change pay, terms and conditions.

The Homerton Board’s snap move to continue with ISS has revitalised the campaign and there is an increasingly possibility of industrial action later this year. The fight is on to back an overwhelmingly Black and migrant workforce, which for too long has borne the costs of NHS privatisation.

  •  If you’d like to support the campaign to bring these key workers back into direct NHS employment, please write to the Homerton’s Chief Executive Tracey Fletcher (email: tracey.fletcher@nhs.net) and the chair of the Homerton’s Board of Directors, Sir John Gieve (john.gieve@nhs.net).

 

  • George Binette is Trade Union Liaison Officer for Hackney North and Stoke Newington Constituency Labour Party

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