In mid-July, ISS (the company which runs services like catering, cleaning and security at Homerton Hospital) announced a reorganisation of these services. The initial briefing stated that up to 89 staff could be made redundant. While management stated that this was a worst case scenario, one suggestion they made as to how to reduce this number was for full time employees could consider “a cut in hours by up to 10 hours per week”. And this would only reduce the overall number by “more than half”!
Staff were understandably furious. They were TUPEd to this company last October and had been reassured that their terms and conditions would not change. From the outset members wanted to take action.
As well as a formal response to the consultation, UNISON led a campaign which highlighted the risks to patient care if cleaning, patient feeding (distribution of food to patients) and security hours were cut. This included raising the issues with the Homerton Hospital management as well as taking our concerns to the public in a number of ways including a petition, writing to our MPs, taking this to the local press and Healthwatch Hackney. We also held two very good protests outside the hospital which were well supported by UNISON members in ISS as well as other hospital staff, other local trade unions and community groups such as keep our NHS public.
The consultation is not yet finished and the results so far are mixed. There have been some positives. There are no changes to hours in patient feeding and no redundancies in this section. There are no compulsory redundancies in healthcare cleaning (2 people have taken voluntary redundancy). Overall there has not been a reduction in the number of cleaning hours and this is good news. Changes for weekday cleaners largely involves changes in where they work in the hospital.
However, it is not all good news. Weekend staff have been affected and 14 people have had their hours reduced from 18 hours per weekend to 14 hours. This is a significant loss of pay for these people.
But the biggest area of concern is “retail”. ISS plan to reduce the hours in the canteen used by staff and visitors. There will be no canteen at weekends and it will be closed from 2.30pm during the week. The 'alternative' they are offering is extended opening hours in the coffee shop which they state will serve some hot food. They are making 8 people redundant in this section.
We don’t think this is good enough. Under the previous company, our canteen used to be so busy at lunchtimes they had to have a security guard on the door to stop visitors using it at busy times! But since ISS took over, the numbers have fallen. Hospital staff report that the food is more expensive with less choice and less fresh options. The answer to falling numbers is not to sack workers but to make the canteen a place that hospital staff want to use. In a 7-day hospital, staff and visitors need a 7-day service!
We continue to fight this, not only to save the jobs of those who work there but to protect the service that health workers need in order that they can in turn provide good care for patients.
Thanks to everyone who has sent solidarity messages of support including those
from Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott.