The words “they’re hospital workers too, they have a right to be treated like human beings” echo from a microphone as ambulances drive past Queen Elizabeth honking their horns in support of protesting staff.
Angry cleaners, security, caterers and porters protested outside Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich yesterday in a bid to send a message to their “exploitative” employers.
Many of the staff who help keep the hospital running are paid by private company ISS, which is introducing fortnightly pay.
The move will lead to pay delays of up to three weeks for some workers, with struggling staff talking of installing a foodbank at the hospital to get by.
The GMB Union, which organised protests across the country today, said workers deserve better than to be left facing weeks without a pay packet.
Helen O’Connor, a GMB union coordinator, said: “ISS are exploiting them anyway. They pay below the London Living Wage, staff don’t get sick pay from day one. The main thing causing anger now is changing the pay scales.
“They’re entitled to do that but they’re withholding a week’s wages at the end of April and a week’s wages at the start of May. They don’t want to advance their wages, they’re making the workforce suffer so they can change the pay scales.
“We’ve asked for foodbank facilities to be put in – they will literally get no pay. A lot of them don’t know how they are going to cope. It’s outrageous.”
Workers come and go as their shifts start and finish, stopping by for as long as they can before they need to get back into the hospital.
At its peak the crowd was about 30, with drivers heading past the hospital beeping in support ot the disgruntled workforce.
One member of catering staff, Gavin, told the Local Democracy Service: “We’re not happy with how ISS are treating us. They expect us to work weeks without wages. They say they’ll give us a loan to be paid back over four weeks but they’ll have to open foodbanks.”
ISS admits the changes could lead to delays but has offered interest-free loans to staff who need them.
However, many members of staff – who are already paid below the London Living Wage – are in debt as it is, and complained that the loans would have to be paid back too quickly.
Dave, a porter at Queen Elizabeth and a union rep, said: “This will push people well below the breadline. This will have a massive impact on the single mums who work here, the ones paying private rents, they can’t afford to lose wages. They won’t be getting anything for three weeks.
“It could have a massive knock-on impact. Some people can’t afford two quid a week to be in the union, that’s how worse off some people are.”
Dave said that many of the workers take on the tough low-paid jobs because they like helping the NHS.
He added: “A lot of us like that we contribute to the NHS. We bring the human touch to the hospital. They need that as much as they need the nurses and doctors.
“Whilst patients are here they deal with medical types – we are the human touch. We contribute a lot more than just the service we provide.”
One union rep said: “ISS is willing to offer payday type loans but when you’re talking about porters, caterers, who are the lowest paid members of the NHS family, they are losing weeks worth of wages. They’re living hand to mouth. To go without a week’s wages is devastating – they’ve been insulted by a company that would clearly have workarounds.”
One cleaner, who didn’t want to be named but said she had been working at the hospital for five years, said they deserved the London Living Wage.
She said: “This will affect me. When I started here this wasn’t the job. They changed it to zero contract, they pay me less than my friend who does the same job because I started after her.
“I live in London, everyone is entitled to the Living Wage. I budget for two weeks – now they’re asking me to borrow my own money? It is not right.”
A spokesman for ISS said when the protests were announced that its 15 pay cycles are too complex to manage, but it is offering loans to staff who will be hit with pay delays.
“To prepare us for the transition to the new payroll system, from May 9 we are moving to just one fortnightly pay cycle and one monthly pay cycle.
“We strongly believe this will benefit our employees as it will give more clarity on what an employee will be paid, and when, as there will be more time to check and process pay.
“Changing any payroll system and process has its challenges.
“This change will affect every ISS employee nationally and we are implementing a focused and comprehensive communications plan to ensure that all our people are aware of the change, understand how it will impact them personally, and that they seek the support ISS is offering to help them through the change.”
Tom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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