On the picket line in Dudley fighting for the Covid bonus (Picture: Unison West Midlands)

New fronts are ­opening up in the long-running fight by NHS workers to receive the “Covid bonus” promised to them by the government during last year’s pay negotiations. With hundreds of the ­thousands of contracted-out health workers in a similar position, it’s time the unions put forward a national strategy.

Dudley

Cleaners, domestics, porters and catering workers were among 300 NHS workers that struck at three hospitals run by the Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust on Friday of last week. Subcontractor Mitie, which employs the ­strikers, refuses to honour the bonus ­agreement. That means its staff have missed out on £1,655.

The giant Unison and Unite unions have come together to hit back. On the picket line Unite union rep Jordan said, “We are here today to show that we are not to be messed with. “We all deserve the same payment that doctors and nurses got. We all did the same stuff. It’s just discrimination.”

Ellen, another Unite rep, said, “We’re on strike because we feel that Mitie doesn’t listen to our opinions. The management isn’t there for us, and they don’t listen to us. The only way we can get them to listen is by striking.” 

Mitie bosses argue that the firm cannot afford to pay the lump sum and that the government must find the cash. But Mitie is a giant ­multinational that makes its profits by grabbing chunks of the NHS and keeping wages for people that work in it low. That’s why it made an ­operating profit of £162 ­million in the last financial year.

Barts

The dispute in the West Midlands is very similar to the Barts strike in London. The difference is that the employer depriving workers of their bonuses is the NHS itself. Many staff that were ­transferred back to the NHS from outsourcer Serco are also being denied the Covid bonus. They have already mounted a long series of strikes, beginning last year.

The Unite strikers plan a reballot of members  employed in soft facilities with voting papers set to go out next week. Strikers are planning to picket the Good Morning Britain (GMB) TV studios this Friday, from 8am to 10am. GMB presenter and former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is a presenter—and also chair of the Barts NHS board of directors.

Meet at Television Centre, Wood Lane, London W12 7FW.

Reading

Unison members at Prospect Park Hospital in Reading also struck last week over ­non‑payment of the Covid bonus. And they plan to strike again this Wednesday and Thursday. Workers there are employed by ISS on behalf of the NHS.

Biomedical scientists want payment they are owed   

Scientists at the Whiston Hospital on Merseyside were set to strike this week in a dispute over bonuses. The highly skilled workers are planning 36 days of strikes starting this Thursday. Further strikes are planned to start on Wednesday next week and 27 March, and 2,10,17, 24 April. 

The Unite union has also scheduled five strike dates in May. The workers, employed by the Mersey and West Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, are furious after bosses told them they do not qualify for the essential services payment worth £4,000. That’s despite other members of the pathology department having received it.

Unite regional officer Imran Akram said the decision is “simply unacceptable. The trust needs to pay its workers fairly to avoid workers on the picket line outside their hospital.” Managers have refused to talk Unite reps about the issue and all grievance procedures have come to an end. The microbiology team at the hospital consists of biomedical scientists who diagnose, treat and prevent the spread of infection.

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