Home Politics ‘I work just as hard as white NHS keyworkers but I don’t get the same sick pay’

‘I work just as hard as white NHS keyworkers but I don’t get the same sick pay’

‘I work just as hard as white NHS keyworkers but I don’t get the same sick pay’

Landmark tribunal judgements could change the lives of low paid Black workers who are being outsourced on worse terms

Security staff at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) are fighting alleged racist outsourcing which they argue means a mainly Black, brown, and migrant workforce is denied full sick pay and other NHS employment rights. The hospital has refused to budge after seven weeks of strike action, despite taking cleaners in-house when they threatened strike action with the same demand.

The guards – employed by Carlisle Support Services – argue the hospital’s refusal to take them in-house amounts to racial discrimination while their generally white colleagues in other key worker roles enjoy six months sick pay and maternity leave. Statutory sick pay is £99.35 a week (£14 a day) – which they say is nowhere near enough to support a family at a time of rocketing inflation.

One guard said she earns only £11.03 an hour – less the London Living Wage (£11.05). This is despite security staff working the most unsociable hours which are usually rewarded with at least a 30 per cent boost for in-house NHS roles. Outsourcing means guards were also denied the recent three per cent pay rise given to NHS workers, despite working alongside them. 

Security guard Mimi Longangu, 46, has worked at GOSH for six years says she led the strike at great personal cost, paying for extra childcare and forcing her husband to take overtime. She said: “I have seen colleagues at work sick but they won’t go home. They would prefer to have an emergency break to take some medicine and go back to work. We have been working in these conditions for years and we cannot take it.” 

She also decried the GOSH ethos of ‘putting children first, asking why it did not extend to her own child, and claimed security guards had gone above and beyond in the pandemic – “doing the jobs no one else wanted to do” – moving sick patients around the hospital without full PPE. Commenting on the claims, GOSH said: “It is not (and was not at any point during the pandemic) the role of security staff to move patients around the hospital. They have also been provided with the same fluid repellent surgical masks that all our staff wear.” 

Strikers say this is important because it put them at higher risk of illness and death. At the height of the pandemic, there was a disproportionate number of BME key workers in London, and Black people were four times more likely to die from Covid-19, according to ONS figures.

Mimi claimed: “In our job, most of us are Black or Asian and we do not get what other workers get and most of them are white. Most of the jobs with white people are all in-house. Nobody likes being treated like that, I feel bad and discriminated.” GOSH did not comment on this and has not confirmed whether Mimi’s claims are accurate.

Strikes are now on hold after exhausting the legal number of strike days. The guards – who are part of the United Voices of the World union – must re-ballot before taking more action. UVW general secretary Petros Elia believes GOSH is “backed into a corner” but will not engage because there are fewer security guards than the cleaners. GOSH argue the decision to outsource security is due to “regulatory requirements” and “value for money for the public purse”.

It comes after a landmark employment tribunal in November 2021 ruled complaints of indirect race discrimination against Royal Parks were “well-founded” after the outsourcing of mainly BME workers was found to be “at a particular disadvantage when compared with non-BME/white workers” in payment terms.

Security guards at St George’s University are now waiting for the outcome of their own tribunal, in which they have complained of the same alleged “two-tier system” of pay and conditions. St George’s security guard Cetin Avsar claimed the Royal Parks judgment “had set a precedent unmasking racist outsourcing which can’t be ignored”. 

The guards at GOSH have received wide support from MPs including John McDonnell, Caroline Lucas, and Tim Farron. A motion tabled by MPs last December said they were “appalled that they [the guards] are provided with far worse terms and conditions than other NHS workers and are the only group of workers who are denied full sick pay which is of particular concern during a global pandemic”. 

A spokesperson for Great Ormond Street Hospital said: “Like many hospitals, we provide efficient, high-quality services for our patients by operating a mixed model, where some services are provided in-house and some are outsourced. Decisions on how services are provided are taken on a case-by-case basis after careful consideration.

“For our security service, these considerations included our compliance with the regulatory requirements of the security industry, the quality of the service including cover arrangements, the employment conditions offered by the provider, and value for money for the public purse.”

Author: Sandra Goss

London, UK