Cleaners face Covid risks for less than living wage at London Bridge Hospital, owned by US healthcare giant

HCA Healthcare was among a number of private companies to receive millions from the NHS while claiming the furlough scheme

Cleaners at a private London hospital say they have been forced to work on Covid wards for less than living wage during the pandemic and have also raised concerns about the PPE available.

Outsourced cleaners at London Bridge Hospital (LBH) have launched a campaign against their employers, Compass Group, and HCA Healthcare, which owns the hospital, over allegations of low pay and poor working conditions.

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Compass Group denies numerous worker allegations, stating: “We take the safety and well-being of our employees extremely seriously. All of our employees have access to training, appropriate PPE, uniforms or scrubs, while following the hospital’s strict infection control policies. No the employee is expected to work when not feeling well.”

Low pay and Covid concerns

Cleaners and members of Britain’s Self-Employed Union are demanding a pay rise to less than £10 an hour and calling on the hospital to ‘respond immediately’ to workers’ health and safety concerns .

Outsourced cleaners, who are mostly migrants, were paid £9.36 an hour until January 2022, while the London Living Wage (LLW) was currently set at £11.05.

Compass told NationalWorld that “in January, we gave our employees a pay raise, this combined with a retention bonus paid in December 2021 equates to a minimum raise of 6%. This is in addition to their expected annual inflationary salary increase later this year.

They added: “We have created an assistance fund to provide grants to employees who need additional financial support due to the impact of the pandemic. This fund is still available, and we encourage all of our employees to contact us if they need this support.”

Mariana Blanco*, a housekeeper at LBH, said the salary was so low that she had to “fight every day to support my family”.

She said: “We feel like second-class citizens here. I have asthma and my safety is at risk every day. She raised concerns about safety and training equipment.

Workers report that they have been asked to clean in rooms “full of infected people” without PPE, and that they need more time to wash between moves from Covid and non-Covid rooms.

As is the case with outsourced security guards at Great Ormond Street Hospital, cleaners at London Bridge Hospital do not receive full sick pay, unlike their in-house colleagues.

This reliance on statutory sick pay, which is among the lowest in the G7, is forcing many cleaners to choose between working when sick or going without the essentials, especially in the context of a cost of living crisis.

Ramona Marredo Mendez, a housekeeper at LBH, says she contracted Covid on the job and then had to self-isolate for two weeks “without the sick pay that directly employed workers receive”.

She said: “The pay is already so low that I can’t afford to take two weeks off on £96.35 a week.

“When I asked Compass for help in accessing statutory sick pay, they did nothing, so I found myself at home for two weeks with no money.”

Workers can receive up to £96.35 a week under the statutory sick pay scheme, although this only applies to the fourth consecutive day of absence.

A spokesperson for Compass told NationalWorld that “anyone who has to self-isolate due to Covid receives contractual sick pay.”

Compass Group, which employs the outsourced cleaners on behalf of the hospital, and HCA Healthcare, which owns LBH, are multi-billion dollar multinational corporations.

US-based HCA recorded revenue of $51.5bn in 2020, while its UK arm claimed £3m under the furlough scheme.

The company was one of a number of private healthcare providers who received millions from the NHS during the pandemic and are now facing calls from think tanks and politicians to repay their furlough grants.

Compass Group, a UK-based outsourcing company, had revenue of nearly £20 billion in 2020.

“Completely unacceptable”

The IWGB is calling on the hospital to ‘address health and safety concerns immediately’ and raise pay to £12.50/hr ‘with the same terms and conditions as directly employed staff’.

IWGB General Secretary Henry Chango Lopez said: ‘It is completely unacceptable that a multi-billion dollar company which has taken £190m of NHS money during the pandemic is forcing its outsourced cleaners to working in dangerous conditions for poverty wages.

“The cleaners are key workers and they do much needed and risky work at London Bridge Hospital, but this predominantly migrant workforce is treated like second class citizens.

He added: “Compass and London Bridge Hospital must give their key employees the pay, conditions and respect they deserve.”

A Compass Group spokesperson said: “We are proud of our employees who have worked through difficult times during the pandemic and are committed to doing all we can to support them and ensure the highest standards are met. .

“As soon as we learned of the concerns of three employees, we met with our team to listen carefully and discuss the points they were raising. We will continue to have an open dialogue with all of our employees. We have a zero tolerance approach to bullying and harassment and encourage anyone with concerns to report them directly or through our confidential helpline.

A spokesperson for HCA Healthcare told NationalWorld they would not comment on the dispute.

*Name has been changed to protect the person’s identity

Michael A. Bynum