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I FIRST met Croydon University Hospital porters and domestics before the pandemic struck.
Without these vital workers, many of whom are migrants, the hospitals would grind to a halt, so they have industrial power.
G4S does not value these workers and it does not recognise their union of choice, GMB.
For years these workers have struggled to survive on the minimum wage and they don’t get decent sick pay.
They complain about huge workloads and the usual petty-minded bullying meted out by private company managers who want to squeeze human labour and pay a pittance for it.
Most are desperate for overtime hours because the pay is so bad, but none will be given on the same day, making it very difficult for these workers to balance their lives.
Workers reported that they are afraid to go into the Covid wards in case they pick up the illness and are unable to work because they won’t get a penny from G4S. Some have gone off sick with injuries and G4S has not paid statutory sick pay.
One worker was left at home struggling with breathing difficulties for weeks with no money.
The poverty pay also known as the minimum wage left one woman crying when she moved home and she was faced with an electric bill for £150.
Another member struggles to afford formula for his new baby. Many are forced to pay thousands to get work visas renewed.
To add insult to injury there is a two-tier workforce and some older employees get full NHS sick pay, good pay for unsocial hours and additional pay enhancements, but these better-paid G4S workers also think that the way G4S operates is unfair.
GMB organised open meetings and the workers engaged well. Once they realised that joining the union would enable them to build power with the weight of the GMB behind them, they started to join the union.
Their numbers are growing so they can make demands for pay justice and they have decided to engage in a GMB-backed campaign to secure the Real London Living Wage and an occupational sick pay scheme.
They were protesting outside the hospital yesterday and GMB Southern Region is supporting them. These workers know that they are in for a hard struggle but they are undeterred as they are taking ownership of their own campaign by leafleting and talking to their colleagues.
Day by day their confidence grows from the solidarity they are getting. They are being backed by campaign groups like Keep Our NHS Public and other workers within the hospital who have pledged to support their struggle.
The Doctors Local Negotiating Committee (LNC) is openly supporting the G4S workers and it has written to the trust to intervene and resolve the injustice.
Managers who have ignored these workers’ concerns for years are starting to get the message that things are changing.
GMB was asked to call off the protest by the company but our members have made their demands loud and clear and they won’t stop until they are offered the London Living Wage and a sick pay scheme.
As the workers grow in confidence the mood at the hospital is positive and compelling. Every worker is stepping up to help to carry out the tasks that are necessary to build their union in their hospital.
As the organising work progresses, these workers will develop skills and solidarity will grow even further.
They will find that if they stick together they can leverage the type of power that will benefit themselves and everyone else too.
They will not only set an example of what trade unionism should look like in the NHS, they will preserve and protect standards in the hospital for patients by struggling for their own rights.
This is why everyone in and outside the hospital must get firmly behind this dispute and support these brave GMB members because the cause of labour is the hope of the world.
Helen O’Connor is GMB Southern regional organiser.
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