Following a two-week strike earlier this year, almost 1,800 outsourced hospital workers – employed by Serco and organised in Unite the Union – have won in their fight to bring their jobs and services back in-house.
This victory was confirmed on 2 March by the board of Barts Health NHS Trust, which manages the three east London hospitals at which these workers are based.
The hospital workers – including cleaners, porters, and caterers – will be brought back in-house when the current contract with Serco expires at the end of April 2023.
These workers have long been fighting outsourcing, which has contributed towards poor conditions, unsociable rotas and hours, and bullying from management.
But the situation reached a tipping point recently after Serco bosses offered the workers a shameful 1% pay rise – an offer that was only later raised to a still meagre (below-inflation) 3% increase following a massive vote in favour of strike action by union members.
This question of pay is directly tied to the scandal of outsourcing. These key workers – many of whom risked their health and lives through the pandemic, and who are mainly from BAME communities – are paid around 15% less than staff employed directly by the NHS, who themselves aren’t paid enough.
Serco’s CEO Rupert Soames, meanwhile, ‘earned’ £4.9 million last year, and the company finance director Angus Cockburn took home £2.4 million. The infamous outsourcing monopoly also made a turnover of £3.9 billion in 2020.
There is no risk of a sub-inflation pay rise for these rapacious racketeers; yet they claim they simply cannot afford a real wage increase for their workers.
Rupert Soames is the grandson of Winston Churchill and brother of former Tory MP Nicholas Soames. Unsurprisingly, then, the company has a cosy relationship with the Tory establishment.
As a result, Serco received juicy COVID contracts from the government for running test-and-trace sites during the pandemic. At one point, the company was receiving £50 million a month from the Department of Health.
Point of collapse
Outsourcing is privatisation by the back door. And it is leading to a deep crisis for Britain’s healthcare service. In tandem with a decade-or-more of austerity, which has stripped the public health system of its staff and resources, the NHS is facing death by a thousand cuts.
Stressed NHS staff in England have been quitting at a record rate of 400 per week. As a result, there are cases where entire hospital wards are running under a single registered nurse. This is only exacerbating the record-breaking patient backlog.
Remaining staff are being worked to the point of collapse. Even intensive care units are prone to understaffing. A recent survey by the Medical Defence Union, for example, found that one in four NHS doctors are so tired – due to growing workloads and longer hours – that they are unable to safely perform their jobs.
Similarly, 89% of pharmacists say they feel at risk of burnout, due to increased workloads and inadequate staffing. And a similar mental health crisis is well underway in the care sector.
The London hospital workers’ win against outsourcing represents a major victory, setting an inspiring example for the rest of the trade union movement.
This struggle against Serco by Unite members demonstrates the way forward in the fight to reverse privatisation and cuts across the NHS, and across all public services: through militant industrial action.
The labour movement – the organised working class – must lead the struggle to save our NHS from capitalist crisis and collapse.
This means organising united action across the health unions, mobilising workers towards a public sector wide strike: against austerity; against this criminal Tory government; and for bold socialist policies that can provide decent pay, conditions, and services for all.
Fight for socialism
The NHS will never be truly safe under capitalism, however. As the crisis deepens, what the capitalists concede with the left hand, they will always seek to take away with the right.
In the process, all the gains that previous generations of workers have struggled for will come under attack, as we are seeing across society at the present time.
We must not only kick the profiteers out of the NHS, therefore, but kick out capitalism altogether – and fight for a clear socialist alternative.
- Bring all healthcare services and contracts back in-house!
- Fight for a 15% pay rise for all healthcare workers!
- For a fully-staffed NHS, and a union-led mass recruitment drive to overcome staff shortages!
- Nationalise Big Pharma and all private healthcare providers, without compensation!
- Boot out the bureaucrats! Put those who know best in charge, by running the NHS under democratic workers’ control!