The Workers Party of Britain warmly welcomes the decision by hundreds of hospital porters, guards, catering staff and cleaners to go on strike for the first two weeks of February.
These key workers have constantly been in the frontline of the pandemic, working to keep St. Barts, Whipps Cross and Royal London hospitals going under the most testing of circumstances. Yet their hard graft and dedication have been so little appreciated by hospital management that they continue to be farmed out to dodgy outsourcing giant Serco, an outfit which has grown fat by ripping off the taxpayer (remember the Test and Trace farce and the earlier scandal around electronic tagging of offenders?) and paying its workers poverty wages.
Serco has now offered a derisory 3 per cent “rise”, at a time when inflation has already risen to 7.5 per cent. Most galling of all is the fact that those employed by Serco are being paid up to 15 per cent less than those on the NHS payroll doing the same job. The striking workers are demanding (a) that hospital management put pressure on Serco to agree a decent pay deal, and (b) that the contract covering these jobs should be taken back in house without delay, bringing pay and conditions into line with those directly employed on NHS contracts.
There is no doubt that Serco could well afford to pay its workers a decent wage. Serco Group PLC had a turnover of £3.9 billion according to the latest figures available, while last year managing director Rupert Soames pulled a £4.9 million package, bringing this old Etonian’s accumulated earnings since 2014 up to £23.5 million. In an interview with the Guardian in January, Soames confided “I’m very well paid. Of course I think about the pay differential [with the company’s lowest-paid staff], but I am made of flesh and blood.”
It may come as a surprise to Rupert that hospital workers are also made of flesh and blood, with families to feed and clothe, houses to heat and mortgages to pay. They are a thousand times right to strike and deserve the full support of all workers.