“I had to go to a food bank last week, which I’ve never had to do in my life,” said Lisa, a cleaner at the Harbour, an NHS hospital in Blackpool. Despite working five days a week, including weekends, finding the money to cope with rising prices is proving increasingly difficult.
She and about 50 colleagues employed by OCS, a private outsourcing company that employs 68,000 people, started a strike on Wednesday morning to ask for improved conditions. They are a small part of a series of industrial actions as workers respond to price rises after more than a decade of stagnating real pay.
They are just a small protest compared with the rail strikes that shut down most of the national network last week, and other workers who have voted to take industrial action including south London tram drivers, London Underground staff, Post Office workers and check-in and ground staff at Heathrow airport.
The hospital workers at Blackpool, and other OCS sites at Blackburn, are calling for weekend pay in line with workers in the same hospitals who are employed directly by the NHS. Those staff receive their hourly rate plus 44% on Saturdays, or plus 88% on Sundays, whereas the OCS staff receive only the hourly rate of £10.19.
Lisa, who is in her 50s, said she had been unable to find money to buy anything beyond necessities for her teenage daughter. (The names of the workers who spoke to the Guardian have been changed.)
She said the hospital cleaners were given a chocolate biscuit and an extra 10-minute break to thank them for their efforts.
About 100 care workers at Bristol-based care company St Monica trust also started striking on Wednesday. Unison said their employer was cutting weekend pay by 21%, and threatening to “fire and rehire” workers if they did not accept.
Christina McAnea, general secretary of Unison, said: “The toxic combination of years of pay freezes, impossibly low salaries and the highest inflation rate in 40 years, is making workers take action. All they’re asking for is better pay and decent living standards..”
Jane, another worker on the Blackpool picket line, said she hadcut back on spending, and wished she had more to spend on her grandchildren. Several workers said that OCS’s reliance on meagre statutory sick pay of only £96 a week – again unlike their NHS counterparts – meant that workers felt forced to come into work when ill.
“I feel like a second-class citizen,” said Stephen, a caterer in his late 20s at Guild Park hospital in Blackburn, where workers are also on strike. “You’re doing the same work but for a hell of a lot less.”
OCS did not respond to a request for comment.