Cleaning and catering workers at a hospital have said they will refuse to work during the coronavirus pandemic until an ongoing dispute with their employer over wages has been resolved.
About 30 workers at University Hospital Lewisham stopped working today after they discovered they had not been paid properly for the second time in a row, leaving many of them without enough money to pay their rent or to buy food.
The workers are currently employed by international services provider, ISS, and have been locked in a dispute since many of them were underpaid on February 27.
Today’s pay should have seen staff paid more after they were underpaid, but some workers did not receive any money, they say.
“It has been disgusting the way they treat us,” said one worker from the housekeeping staff who did not want to be identified over fears of losing her job.
“We are working with coronavirus in the hospital and not getting paid for it.
“If we don’t clean the ward it is a state and we have a chance of catching coronavirus here.”
The first case of coronavirus in London was confirmed at Lewisham Hospital on February 13 when a woman checked herself in.
The worker added: “No one is helping us. So as of 7am this morning none of us are going to work.
“We are a priority need in this hospital so we should be a priority for payment.”
ISS took over service management at Lewisham Hospital in February and workers have also been in a dispute over their rate of pay, which for many is the minimum wage of £8.21 per hour.
In November, ISS promised to raise service staff wages to the London Living Wage of £10.55 pending a “three-month employee training programme”.
Another housekeeping staff member who did not want to be identified, said: “Today they only paid me one week and now I have no money.
“My son is living with me and relying on me and I can’t even cook for him, we have no food.
“People are buying food to put in their houses because of coronavirus, but we can’t buy food.
“Last time they underpaid me, too. I have a mortgage payment to make next week.”
A domestic staff member who did not want to be named said: “They short paid me on February 27. Today I received nothing at all. Zero.
“I’ve never seen a payslip so I don’t know anything about how much they pay me, my pension, nothing.
“I need to pay rent today. I am so stressed the whole day. I can’t get the strength to work. We need to get money today.”
Union representatives from GMB union were present at the hospital today demanding ISS make immediate payments to their accounts or they would not continue working.
Gary Palmer, a GMB representative, said: “Some of these workers are asking shopkeepers if they can pay for their food next week. If their landlord comes round they will be hiding behind the back of the settee. ISS are responsible for that.
“People are angry. It is naive to think people can wait day after day without pay.”
Another GMB representative, Helen O’Connor, said: “The issue exposes how dangerous outsourcing NHS services is. We’re in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic and this hospital’s cleaners are more vital than ever before.”
A spokeswoman for Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust said: “Our partners, ISS, have confirmed that they are ensuring that the hospital is being cleaned as normal.”
“We apologise to all the staff who work for our partners, ISS, who have been affected by this issue. We have been in discussions with ISS’ management team, who have been taking urgent actions to resolve the issue.
“Staff who provide soft facilities management services at University Hospital Lewisham (UHL) were transferred over to ISS in February 2020, as ISS took over the contract for these services for the Trust. This meant that ISS moved these staff over to a new pay system.
“We are so sorry that there have been administrative problems with the new pay system, so not all the ISS staff at UHL were paid correctly. ISS has been taking urgent action to resolve the issue – running pay clinics to ensure that all staff are paid in full. ISS is also meeting all staff who have been affected by this issue to ensure it does not happen again.”
An ISS spokeswoman said: “ISS has recently transferred a large number of employees on to their payroll at the University Hospital Lewisham.
“This has involved moving to a different pay cycle and process for employees transferring to ISS.
“We are very sorry that some employees have not been paid correctly and we have been taking urgent action to resolve any issues.
“We have arranged drop-in sessions and 1:1s to meet employees who have had an issue and to ensure that they are paid in full.
“We are committed to ensuring a smooth mobilisation and encourage any employees with queries to contact us directly so that we can answer any questions and rectify any issues as swiftly as possible.”