Cleaners at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow have today (Friday) voted almost unanimously in favour of strike action against plans to outsource cleaning services.
UNISON members voted 99% in favour of industrial action on an 84% turnout.
The 220 staff that provide cleaning and domestic services warn that if jobs are transferred to the private sector it could spell disaster for patients. Research has shown that hospitals with outsourced cleaning have higher rates of infection than those with in-house services.
The cleaners warn that pay and conditions will fall below NHS colleagues if services are outsourced, as a private company would not be part of any future NHS pay awards. And new starters could also face worse employment terms, with a private contractor having no obligation to pay more than the legal minimum.
UNISON has recently won NHS pay rates for health workers employed by private companies in Doncaster, Liverpool, and Bolton. However, it is far better for staff and for patients if services aren’t outsourced in the first place, says UNISON.
Employees will now discuss their next steps, including possible strike dates. UNISON has urged the Princess Alexandra Hospital to abandon its privatisation plans to avoid industrial action.
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “All too often the reality of outsourcing is lower pay, a longer working day and reduced job security after a private firm takes over. Service users rarely see any benefit, it’s company bosses and shareholders who are the big winners.
“Keeping sick people safe from infection is life-saving work and the cleaners at Princess Alexandra Hospital are passionate about their jobs – which is why it’s so vital that standards are maintained.
“Strike action is always a last resort and we are hopeful it can still be avoided. But for that to happen, the hospital must call a halt to its damaging privatisation plans and work with us to find a better way forward.”
Claire Evans, a Princess Alexandra Hospital cleaner said: “This vote is a clear message to our bosses that we don’t want to work for an outside contractor — we are proud to work for the NHS and serve our communities.
“We don’t just clean the wards, we bring patients their teas, we make sure they get their dinners, we chat to them. We make sure they feel as safe and comfortable as possible while they’re in the hospital because we care about them.
“Taking strike action is not an easy decision for any of us but we need to stand up for our jobs and our patients”.
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Notes to editors
– Princess Alexandra Hospital currently has some of the lowest rates of infection in the country, including instances of MRSA.
– UNISON is campaigning across the country to ensure outsourced health workers don’t lose out when it comes to their pay, terms and conditions. Recent notable successes with winning NHS rates include: catering workers employed by Sodexo at Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospital; 50 cleaners, porters, catering and security staff employed by OCS at Liverpool Women’s Hospital; over 330 staff at iFM Bolton, a wholly owned subsidiary.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in both the public and private sectors.