Cleaners, porters, catering assistants, security guards and other health staff employed by private companies should receive the same pay rise as NHS staff, union leaders have said.
Unison said private firms and subsidiary companies owned by individual NHS trusts should increase hourly pay to at least match new NHS rates (Agenda for Change), which are as yet unconfirmed.
The government sparked anger last month by announcing a delayed 3% pay rise for NHS workers, which has led to warnings of industrial action. The 3% figure was reached on the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body and the Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration.
Unison, one of the UK’s largest trade unions with 1.3 million members, said staff working in the NHS and employed by private contractors are at risk of getting no pay increase due to the “hard-nosed pursuit of profit”.
“Thousands of cleaners, porters and caterers have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, alongside their NHS colleagues,” said Unison general secretary Christina McAnea. “NHS staff have the benefit of a national pay system, but those not directly employed are missing out, often because of complex contracting arrangements, penny-pinching practices and the hard-nosed pursuit of profit.”
The union has written to the largest private employers in the health service, including Serco, Sodexo and Mitie, saying these health workers “have worked hard and under incredibly challenging circumstances across the NHS throughout the pandemic”.
The letter urges contractors “to ensure that pay rates of staff delivering services to the NHS are no lower than Agenda for Change … across all the contracts they deliver within the NHS”.
“Unlike my NHS colleagues, me and others who work for private contractors won’t get the pay rise we deserve,” said one hospital cleaner employed by a private contractor at a Bedfordshire hospital.
“It’s not right to give some of us a pay rise and leave others behind. Us cleaners especially aren’t treated fairly and eventually you have to put your foot down. You can’t say doctors are more important than cleaners. After all, if we went on strike, infection rates would go up … People like me are as much a part of the NHS as anyone else.”
The cleaner, who was from a minority ethnic background, expressed concern that the pay disparity would disproportionately impact BAME health workers. A Guardian analysis from the beginning of the pandemic found that 61% of UK health workers killed by the virus were from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background.
McAnea added: “Staff in the NHS work on one site as one team, from maintaining clean and safe wards to ensuring patients are fed and cared for. No one delivering NHS services should be paid less than their directly employed colleagues.
“A pay rise should apply to all NHS staff. Health workers employed by contractors must not be left behind. The public will expect everyone in the NHS to get the pay rise they’ve all more than earned.”