A new NHS private contract - but the fight for fair pay is far from over

George Binette if fighting to bridge the salary gap between ISS staff and the lowest paid NHS employ

George Binette if fighting to bridge the salary gap between ISS staff and the lowest paid NHS employees. - Credit: Archant

First the bad news: on July 29, Homerton Hospital’s board of directors rubber-stamped another five-year contract with Danish-based company giant ISS, valued at £50 million.

The contract covers ‘facility management’ – cleaning, catering, portering and reception/security services – and involves some 200 employees. The vast majority of those are women, while more than three quarters come from black or minority ethnic backgrounds.

The board’s decision came despite a sustained GMB and Unison campaign calling for a return to direct NHS employment, with 3,000+ signing petitions and dozens joining online meetings to pressure the board. The board, chaired by ex-senior civil servant Sir John Gieve, insisted that senior management lacked “band-with” amidst the Covid crisis, yet politely ignored Hackney Council’s offer to assist with the insourcing of facility management. Sir John seems extremely comfortable with the trust underwriting a multinational corporation’s profit so long as this restrains key workers’ pay.

But here’s some better news: the new ISS contract, effective from October 1, will provide some improvements. ISS employees are finally guaranteed to receive at least the London Living Wage as a basic hourly rate and, crucially, all of these outsourced workers will be eligible for occupational sick pay in line with the NHS scheme. This is a dramatic improvement on miserly statutory sick pay provision, which amounts to just £95.85 a week and is only paid after three days off sick. Introduction of the NHS scheme marks a real victory for the campaign, but also a triumph for common sense.

After all, effectively compelling ill people to work in a hospital setting also endangers patient safety.

Even with the improvements, the contract still leaves a yawning gap of more than £1,500 a year in basic pay between ISS staff and the lowest paid NHS employees, so this fight is far from over.