‘We struggle to pay rent’: Herts hospital staff slam contractor for failure to pay living wage

PUBLISHED: 16:12 08 June 2020 | UPDATED: 16:12 08 June 2020

Staff who work for a contractor at Watford General hospital said they were not earning a living wage.

Staff who work for a contractor at Watford General hospital said they were not earning a living wage.

Archant

Staff at Hertfordshire hospitals, battling for the living wage, say £8.75 an hour is insufficient compensation for the trauma of dealing with children’s dead bodies.

Watford General cleaner Sadia Iram said she had approached managers in tears after under-payment left her bank account empty. Picture: Sadia Iram.Watford General cleaner Sadia Iram said she had approached managers in tears after under-payment left her bank account empty. Picture: Sadia Iram.

A contractor which provides key workers to Herts hospitals has been accused of hypocrisy over its failure to pay the living wage.

Mitie, which supplies cleaners, porters and catering staff to the West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, has signed up as a living wage champion – but only pays its Herts hospital workers £8.75 per hour and only pays statutory sick pay.

The living wage outside London is £9.30 per hour.

GMB union spokeswoman Hilda Tavolara said: “By signing up to be a Living Wage Foundation champion, Mitie have admitted that the wages they pay are not enough to live on.”

GMB spokesperson Hilda Tavolara described Herts hospital contractor Mitie's working practices as 'chaos'. Picture: GMB.GMB spokesperson Hilda Tavolara described Herts hospital contractor Mitie's working practices as 'chaos'. Picture: GMB.

Meanwhile, the hospitals trust has employed additional porters to help with the covid-19 influx and is paying them £14 per hour, plus full sick pay.

GMB said the contradiction was “a kick in the teeth” for Mitie staff, whose morale was already “extremely low”.

But Mitie suggested that it was unable to pay the living wage due to the terms of its contract with the hospitals, saying GMB was “well aware that pay rates cannot be changed without agreement from the client”.

Mitie workers, who have been on Hertfordshire’s frontline throughout the coronavirus pandemic, have described working intensive, physically demanding jobs that still leave them unable to pay their bills.

Hospital porter David Lyons, who works at Watford General, said his full-time job barely paid enough to cover rent and bills. Picture: David Lyons.Hospital porter David Lyons, who works at Watford General, said his full-time job barely paid enough to cover rent and bills. Picture: David Lyons.

One female porter, who asked not to be named, lives in a flat with her two children and her husband, who also earns minimum wage.

“We struggle to pay our rent,” she said. “We struggle to take our eldest one out. We’d like to take them to theme parks and on days out.”

But on their current income, she said, the couple couldn’t even cover the essentials.

“We have to have help from our parents,” she added.

An aerial shot of Watford General hospital.An aerial shot of Watford General hospital.

Her job as a porter is both physically and emotionally draining, she told the Advertiser.

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“Sometimes, you don’t even get time to go and get a drink. It’s just job after job after job,” she said.

“We have to take away dead bodies – and to be honest, £8.75 an hour isn’t enough to remove a dead body from a ward. Especially kids and babies. You’re going up to these wards and sometimes these dead bodies haven’t even been wrapped.”

When Sadia Iram, 27, began cleaning at Watford General, her employer was Medirest. Then the contract was taken over by Mitie.

“With Medirest, there were two domestics for each ward,” she said. “Now there is only one. This is not a one-person job. We are on our feet all the time.”

There have been problems with underpayments, Sadia added. She has been owed money since October.

“Last time I went downstairs in the office, I was crying, saying, ‘I’ve got no money in my account’,” she said. “They said, ‘Next month’. Then the next month they gave me short money again.”

Hilda Tavolara described Mitie’s working practices as “chaos”, saying she was pursuing the company on behalf of members for “constant underpayment of wage, not getting sick pay and holiday pay.”

Former soldier David Lyons, 63, has worked as a porter at Watford General for 11 years. Despite working a 42-hour week, he is still forced to claim Universal Credit to cover his basic living expenses, like rent, bills and food shopping.

Owing to a heart problem and diabetes, he has been off work for several weeks, shielding himself from coronavirus. He has only received statutory sick pay, leaving him unable to pay his rent.

Initially, he continued working despite his underlying health conditions. But, he said: “I was taking five bodies out a day and they ran out of body bags. Sometimes you were moving a body without a body bag. We were using plastic sheeting.”

A spokesman for Mitie said that the number of cleaners per ward was “adequate” and met NHS specifications.

It did acknowledge that some staff had been underpaid “in recent months” but said the problem had affected less than two per cent of payments.

A spokesman added: “We recognise that pay and reward plays an important part in making our people feel valued. We would encourage any employees receiving incorrect pay to raise this as soon as possible so it can be corrected immediately.”

The hospital trust did not comment on Mitie’s suggestion that it was not agreeing to pay the living wage to Mitie staff.

Its director of environment, Paddy Hennessy, said: “We are working with Mitie to ensure that all their employees working at our hospital sites are paid correctly.”

The trust added that it always followed “good practice” and “national procedures” regarding moving bodies.


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