The GMB Organiser Helen O’Connor

Lewisham Hospital’s cleaners walked out on Thursday, 12th March after an outsourced cleaning contractor repeatedly failed to pay them. A week later, the GMB Trade Union reported that the cleaners still haven’t been paid and the private company ISS blames administrative errors for the crisis.

Helen O’Connor the GMB officer said: “For many of these workers missing just one pay cheque means not being able to pay the rent, or put food on their families’ tables.

“They are at the end of their tether following weeks of their pay being short – now today they get no pay at all.

“This could not have happened at a worse time – we are facing a coronavirus pandemic and infected patients are now being admitted into the hospital.

“Meanwhile the people who are meant to be keeping the hospital clean and safe are not getting paid. Once again the dangers of outsourcing in the NHS are laid bare.”

Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign

Community campaigners from Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign joined the cleaners protesting outside Lewisham Hospital on Friday, 13th March. Their spokesperson, Olivia O’Sullivan said: “We are here today to bring solidarity from our campaign and the Lewisham community.” She went on to say: “It’s a disgrace what’s happening to you….We would rather they brought the service back into the NHS.”

Keep Our NHS Public say: “Private company ISS leaves staff with no money for food, no payments, delayed payments, under payments and crucially no protective clothing as first case of Covid-19 confirmed at Lewisham Hospital. Cleaning, portering and catering staff at Lewisham Hospital have walked out after private contractor ISS failed to pay the wages of the hospital workers.

Furious workers stormed off the job during a row with the outsourcing company. Now ISS risks leaving wards uncleaned and meals not being served if they can’t settle the low paid workers’ wages.”

The dispute raged onto the following week despite contractor, ISS issuing a statement saying that they were extremely sorry that this happened and are reaching out to those staff to apologise in person, and to quickly sort out any pay issues they have.

On Tuesday, 23rd March, the GMB’s Helen O’Connor confirmed that monies were still owed and payday for the low paid cleaners is on Thurdsay, 25th March.

The treatment of the cleaners has led to hundreds of residents signing a letter condemning the “callousness” of ISS and demanded that the company provide financial compensation for all workers affected by the “extreme negligence that led to this staff walk-out.”

They say that ISS should revise its sick pay policy to guarantee that all outsourced staff – in the event of a suspected case of Covid-19 – are guaranteed no loss of pay, no detriment to their sickness and absence record and no loss of annual leave entitlement and that all branches of ISS operating in the Lewisham provide a transparent account of the appropriate health and safety measures they have put in place for all its staff.

The full text of the letter is here

“The hard working cleaners are part of an effective infection control regime, preventing MRSA and the like. To penny pinch now when the country is in the midsts of a pandemic is a scandal – they should be directly employed by the hospital and paid properly – that’s why I signed.” – Cllr Alan Hall

Jeremy Corbyn pays tribute to cleaners at his final Prime Minister’s Question Time
The health campaigner John Lister gives his verdict

In his final Prime Minister’s Question Time as Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn took the opportunity to thank frontline workers in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. He paid a moving tribute to cleaners saying:

“I wish to give a special mention to one group who are usually ignored, forgotten and decried as ‘unskilled workers:’ cleaners.

“All around the country — and in this building — they are doing their best to keep our places hygienic and safe.”

John Lister is a founding Member and former Co-Chair of Keep Our NHS Public and a Co-Founder of the Health Campaigns Together initiative.

John has written extensively on the history of the NHS including an award-winning book in 2008 and in 2015 he also collaborated with Jackie Davis and David Wrigley to update the analysis in NHS for Sale. He says: ” People who were shocked when staff took strike action should be more shocked now by the shameful attitude of private contractors.”

The GMB reported that the cleaners were not paid on Thursday, 26th March. Helen O’Connor said: “Lewisham cleaners pay still not sorted —some are not returning to work for ISS anymore. This will get worse.”

Read the article in the Newsshopper

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