HACKNEY’S Labour Parties have joined together with Hackney’s two Labour MPs and two trade unions – GMB and Unison – to support outsource company keyworkers who provide vital catering, portering, cleaning and security services at Homerton Hospital in their fight for better pay and conditions of work.
Hackney Labour is united in saying these workers share equal risk with other workers at the Hospital and deserve equal working rights.
In a joint statement, both constituency parties, along with the Labour Group of Councillors, the Mayor of Hackney and both MPs, are asking the Hospital to bring the contract in house within two years at the most using the experience of other organisations like Hackney Council and other elements of the NHS which have achieved something similar.
They feel that ISS, the outsource company concerned, should take note of the growing Black Lives Matter consensus, which makes it unacceptable for the company to argue that it wishes to save money for services at the expense of fair and equitable working conditions for a majority black workforce (around 72 per cent BAME).
Hackney North CLP, Hackney South CLP, Hackney’s Mayor and Hackney Labour Group of Councillors, state:
“We feel that ISS and other privateers will inevitably try to prioritise profit margins and shareholder dividends above employee welfare and standards of care.
“We welcomed the Health in Hackney Scrutiny meeting (on July 9), reviewing the situation. But the answers given by those representing both ISS and the employer were unsatisfactory.
“Real people’s real lives are at stake here, and we do not see why this contract needs to go to a private firm, or at least cannot be broken and the services brought include a break clause to bring the services in-house swiftly with decent and proper working conditions and pay for the workers involved, matching those of their colleagues elsewhere in the NHS.”
The joint statement goes on:
“This is not about the hospital’s high standards of care and quality of care for patients which we all recognise as a great achievement and to be applauded. It is about those who help to contribute to those standards, being paid a decent wage, and given good conditions of work.
“After what has happened recently with the pandemic, there can be few people left in the UK who have not clapped NHS workers, or recognised their significant importance in the survival of our society and our personal lives. It’s about time that those wonderful sentiments are fully realised in the treatment of this section of workers in the health service.”
Hackney MPs Meg Hillier and Diane Abbott point the finger at the Government and its continued underfunding of the NHS as the culprit for much of the problems being experienced in the NHS.
“The truth is that underfunding relies on underpaying outsourced manual labour” they say, adding that on its current record this government will not follow through with a proper, sustainable long-term funding strategy.
Early in the pandemic, the Department of Health and Social Care wrote off £13bn in loans to trusts. But the underlying, systemic funding weaknesses that see trusts with an £827m deficit (in 2018/19) is not being tackled.
Diane Abbott MP
The two MPs add: “Underfunding and outsourcing are closely linked. It is sometimes claimed that private companies managing outsourced NHS services save money because of superior management skills.
“The truth is that underfunding relies on underpaying outsourced manual labour. And the Public Accounts Committee has had companies admit that they have bid low to win contracts. It’s quite simply baked into an unsustainable funding model.”
They conclude: “as Labour MPs we want fair pay to be unequivocally Labour policy. And we will do all we can to shift the dial today. The coronavirus pandemic has taught us all that cleaners, caterers, porters and security guards are all key frontline workers. And they deserve justice. It’s simply the right thing to do.”
Meg Hillier MP
ISS employs nearly 300 workers on a facility management contract at Homerton Hospital – due to expire this October. A clear majority have only been eligible for statutory sick pay.SSP.
The union campaign has already secured a significant victory with ISS conceding that staff forced to self-isolate would receive full pay from day one. ISS has apparently agreed to extend this to all its employees across Britain – some 45,000 workers – with other NHS contractors said to be following.
Unison has listed some main demands:
- ‘equal pay for equal risk’
- Agenda for Change pay and conditions
- Full occupational sick pay
- Insourcing to be undertaken, no automatic extension of ISS contact for 5years.
Unison area organiser Michael Etheridge: “The proposed new contract is absolutely devastating for our members. They feel betrayed by a trust that tells them they are part of ‘one NHS family’ while failing to demonstrate this. Unison reps have been making the case to management for many months for a substantive improvement to their terms and conditions.
“We oppose the outsourcing of these services in the NHS. It is bad for workers, bad for the community the hospital serves, and drives down terms and conditions across the public sector. Cost reductions may seem attractive, but ultimately they are passed on to workers.
“Outsourcing creates a two-tier workforce. Morale is particularly low amongst outsourced staff, with members reporting that they feel like ‘second-class citizens’. The fact that they are a majority Black and ethnic minority workforce makes this all the more shameful.”
Unison slammed ISS for reporting a profit of over $200m last year, which the trade union said was money made “off the backs of our members, who they refuse to pay proper sick pay or the London Living Wage (LLW)”, going on to brand the company an “irresponsible employer”.
GMB NHS organiser Lola McEvoy added: “This contract locks workers into five more years into frankly below par and poverty-inducing terms and conditions says something about how we as a borough value these people.
“There are serious concerns raised about the disproportionate impact that Covid-19 has had on certain ethnicities who are overrepresented in the facilities management contract.
“There have been multiple complaints about ISS from both trade unions about bullying, harassment, and a refusal to pay sick pay to people with very severe illnesses.
“If these things do not flag up ISS as an irresponsible and wholly inadequate employer within our public services, I would be interested to hear how what we and our members have experienced at the Homerton fits with the Trust’s decision [to extend].”
There have also been public petitions in support of the Homerton workers case bearing more than 3,000 signatures.
170 doctors at the Homerton recently wrote to management to express their concerns.
They said: “We are writing as Homerton employed doctors in support of our ISS colleagues. We understand that a further five year contract is to be signed with ISS at the end of this month. We have been proud to work alongside colleagues in cleaning, portering, catering and security services during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“They have gone above and beyond in their commitment and hard work, but these employees… by being employed through ISS… receive worse pay and worse terms and conditions, including only statutory sick pay.”
… Questions have been raised about the legality of Homerton Hospital pushing through a £45m five-year contract to outsource its cleaners, porters and security staff with no tender.
Regulations require a tender for contracts over £25,000, but hospital chiefs could renew its contract with facility services giant ISS in October without one.
At a Hackney Council health scrutiny commission meeting, GMB organiser Lola McEvoy explained she believes the contract “lacked any public or official scrutiny”.
She asked: “Why anyone would extend the contract against the instructions of NHS England and trade unions at a national level, which would be so contentious when there has been an ongoing campaign and multiple complaints about the provider ISS, from bullying, harassment, a refusal to pay sick pay to people with very severe illnesses, despite it coming to light they have an occupational sick pay scheme.
“If that doesn’t flag up ISS as an irresponsible and wholly inadequate employer within our public services, which in turn should have influenced the decision to take out a VEAT.”
VEAT stands for voluntary ex-ante transparency notice, which would allow a new contract to be awarded without going out to tender.
Ms McEvoy continued: “When we sought independent legal advice from a procurement lawyer in the NHS, they told us a VEAT could only be used in very specific circumstances if there were absolutely no problems whatsoever in the contract. The only reason you can extend with a VEAT is if the contract has been absolutely brilliant and both parties are totally supportive of the performances of the provider.”
18 July 2020