Trade unions are celebrating victory in the campaign over “poverty pay” given to workers at the Homerton Hospital, with a new deal with facilities giant ISS granting outsourced staff the same sick pay as their NHS colleagues.
The campaign for equal terms for outsourced and NHS workers has been in the headlines for months following reports that the levels of statutory sick pay relied upon by ISS-employed staff were forcing staff to come to work while ill.
Now the Homerton has announced, following outrage from unions at the length of a five-year extension of the contract with ISS, that it has received guarantees from the company that all directly employed staff will gain the same terms on sickness pay as NHS staff.
Regional organiser for trade union Unison Carol Shorter said: “Over the past few months these workers have been on the frontline fighting Covid. We are pleased the Trust has accepted our arguments on sick pay: no one should be forced to come to work whilst sick.
“Statutory sick pay is poverty pay and we are pleased to see the back of it at Homerton hospital.
“This is a fantastic victory for our members who have fought hard against the inequalities of the two-tier workforce in the NHS. Unison will continue to campaign for full NHS terms and conditions for our members, and for these services to be brought back in-house.”
Lola McEvoy, NHS organiser for the GMB trade union, said: “Our members at ISS Homerton have had huge support in their fight for equality with their NHS colleagues.
“The faced the same risk as their NHS colleagues and deserve parity with them. The use of statutory sick pay in hospitals like Homerton is not only cruel but dangerous and irresponsible.
“We applaud the courage our members have shown and are pleased the Trust have conceded on sick pay but the fight will continue until every key worker who faces the same risk be afforded the basic dignity of equality with NHS employed staff. This battle has been gruelling, but buoyed by this win, the fight for fairness continues.”
The campaign for a better deal for ISS staff attracted support from every level of local Labour including Hackney MPs Diane Abbott and Meg Hillier, as well as warnings from the Independent Sage group’s Professor Allyson Pollock about the health risks of continuing to use outsourced labour.
Trade unions have further argued that outsourcing manifests as a form of structural racism, with 77 per cent of the ISS workforce from Black, Asian or minority ethnic communities.
Concerns have been repeatedly raised by Unison and the GMB over half of the 200 workers outsourced to facilities company ISS not receiving sick pay for the first three days of their illness, after which the key workers receive £95.85/wk, a significant reduction from a salary of £80 to £100 a day.
The new £50m contract, agreed by the Homerton’s board this week, will guarantee full NHS sick pay, which goes up to six months’ full pay and six months’ half pay.
While ISS will continue to provide soft facility management services, including cleaners, porters and security staff, the hospital has further committed to considering bringing services in-house “in the future,” with a full impact assessment planned over the next two years to look at options for bringing this about.
Staff will also be paid the London Living Wage throughout the contract along with all uplifts, an issue which unions had previously criticised the company for not providing.
The hospital will also review the company’s people management data and performance along with regular meetings between the hospital, ISS and Unison, with staff now given access to Freedom to Speak Up Guardians at the hospital who support whistleblowers, reporting directly to the trust board.
The new provisions, which the hospital stresses it believes “is worth doing and the right thing to do”, are understood to have cost the Trust an additional £1m over five years.
ISS was approached for comment, but had not responded by time of going to press.
The hospital’s director of finance Phill Wells has previously described the Homerton as a “break-even trust”, saying in response to questioning earlier in the month from councillors on whether more could be paid to ISS to secure better terms for workers: “Whatever we add to the cost base of the Trust will present something of a challenge to the way we fund it, and necessitate us seeking efficiencies elsewhere.
“Those should be found and that is part of the time it has taken to ensure we can strike a deal with ISS that is appropriate.”
A spokesperson for the Homerton added: “ISS currently provide a high quality service supporting our hospital and community services. The quality of this service has been a contributory factor to our hospital recently being rated ‘Outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission.
“A five-year contract with ISS, worth £50m, will provide stability and continuity at a time when our energies will be focussed on the gradual but steady return of services to pre-emergency levels, whilst mindful of having to adapt to any re-emergence of coronavirus in our communities.
“We have listened to ISS staff concerns on a number of issues and we have been successful in ensuring, as part of the new contract, guarantees from ISS that all directly employed staff will gain the same terms on sickness pay as NHS staff.
“In negotiating the new contract with ISS, the Trust has included the vast majority of the services and performance requirements that exist in the current contract on a like for like basis, and which ISS has previously met to a high standard.
“The Trust greatly values the contribution that every member of the ISS team makes to the successful running of our services and the high quality level of care we are able to offer to the people of Hackney and the City.”