Hospital workers to strike over NHS refusal to offer ‘Covid bonus’

Around 700 workers from one of London’s largest NHS trusts are set to walk out next month in a dispute over pay.

Hundreds of Unite members employed as cleaners and porters across Barts Health NHS Trust will take strike action between May 7 and 19.

They say the NHS has “failed” to pay them a lump-sum of £1,655, which was offered to NHS workers partly for working through the Covid-19 pandemic.

It formed part of the April 2023 pay deal, and has been referred to by some as the “Covid bonus”.

At the time, the facilities staff were employed by outsourcer Serco. They have since transferred back to the NHS, but the trust says it cannot extend the offer and they shall not receive it.

A spokesperson for the NHS said it was “not permitted” to make the payment under the terms of the NHS pay award, which was agreed after months of industrial action.

In a statement issued to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), she said: “We have considered a number of options but, under the terms of the NHS pay award, we are not permitted to make this payment.

“However, we are talking to the unions about alternative arrangements to address the injustice their members feel.”

Tabusam Ahmed, a regional officer with Unite, said the union’s members were some of the lowest paid in the NHS and were “struggling to make ends meet amid a cost of living crisis”.

She said: “They turned up and put themselves on the frontline during the pandemic just like every other healthcare professional, yet NHS England is trying to exploit a loophole to deny them the money they are owed.

“It is absurd that other health workers not directly employed by the NHS have received the payment yet our members are being denied it. This inequality is unacceptable. Barts need to do the right thing and pay our members what they are owed.

“They have seen their comrades at other trusts rightly win this pay award and there is absolutely no reason for NHS bosses to be continuing to block this payment for our members.

The government announced in March that it would extend the ‘Covid bonus’ to around 27,000 external healthcare workers who had delivered NHS care during the pandemic. They will receive the one-off payment in the coming months.

Unite’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, said there was “absolutely no reason” for the payment to be blocked.

She said: “If Barts thinks that our members have given up on this fight they have another thing coming.

“We will continue this fight, escalating the action we will take until our members get what is rightfully theirs.”

Unite, one of the largest trade unions in the UK, has been running similar campaigns across the country.

Barts Health NHS Trust, established in 2012, comprises five hospitals in the capital: Whipps Cross in Leytonstone, the Royal Hospital London in Whitechapel, Newham Hospital in Plaistow, Mile End Hospital in Mile End, and its namesake, St Bartholomew’s in the City.

Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter