London Indymedia

Strike at Whipps Cross Hospital

Jon Rogers | 01.09.2006 20:47 | Workers' Movements | London

Some news about an important industrial dispute in the health service in London.

270 UNISON members employed by Initial Rentokil at Whipps Cross Hospital in London are just finishing a three day strike as part of a continuing campaign for justice and the implementation of an agreement to harmonise the pay of privatised workers with NHS colleagues.

Having been very happy to support the strikers at Whipps Cross Hospital earlier this week, I have been looking into the company that employs them – Rentokil Initial. I was particularly struck by some of things Rentokil Initial have to say about corporate social responsibility (CSR).

“Rentokil Initials principal asset is people. Our success is entirely dependent on the efforts of the 90 000 (approx) people we employ around the world.” Does this include the workers at Whipps Cross I wonder?

“A strength at Rentokil Initial has always been its people management.” Does that include causing strike action at Whipps Cross hospital?

“The board as a whole is responsible for ensuring that social and ethical considerations form part of the management function at all levels and Doug Flynn, Chief Executive, is the main board director with responsibility for CSR matters.” Is it ethical to refuse to honour an agreement to play fair by low paid workers I wonder?

Not everything in the garden is rosy as operating profits for the company were down 10% in the first half of 2006. The company attracted criticism last year when it closed its defined benefits pensions scheme in the UK.

Still, Mr Flynn, the recently appointed Chief Executive will probably survive. According to the company’s 2005 Annual Report, when he was appointed, “a one-off award was put in place at the time of his appointment to facilitate the recruitment of the chief executive at a time of significant transformation of the business.”

“An award of £2.4 million was made in compensation for awards forfeited. This has been paid one third in cash and two thirds in Rentokil Initial shares. The unconditional cash element of the award (£0.8 million) was paid in two equal instalments, with the first due after six months in employment and the second due after 12 months in employment.”

Then there was his transformation incentive award – “the award is in respect of 2,609,263 shares (the number of shares being calculated by reference to the value of five times Mr Flynn’s base salary of £800,000 on appointment).”

On August 31st, NHS domestic, Lorna Ayeh challenged Millionaire Chief Executive, Doug Flynn, about Rentokil’s subsidiary, Initial Hospital Services Ltd, reneging on a pay deal that guaranteed her at least £7.40 per hour by April 1st 2006. She currently earns £5.52 per hour.

Doug, who has been at the helm of Rentokil/Initial since April 2005 was reported to have earned £2.1 million in his first nine months with the UK multinational. At their current rates of pay it would take Lorna 195 years to earn what Doug has earned in his first 9 months.

Lorna didn’t ask Doug to take less for himself out of the Rentokil pot she just asked Initial to honour the agreement that was made three years ago to give her equal pay with her colleagues in the NHS by April 1st 2006.

"If you make a deal you expect people to keep it but that has not been the case with Initial Hospital Services Ltd" says Lorna who is justifiably angered by the company's refusal to honour the pay agreement made in 2003. "London is great if you can afford it. But you can't have much fun on £5.52 an hour. The £7.40 I was promised would have helped me but the company has let me down. It's simple. What they are doing is wrong and I am not going to let them get away with it!".

Lorna and her colleagues who are employed by Initial Hospital Services Ltd (RENTOKIL GROUP) leafletted outside Rentokil's HQ in Belgravia (Buckingham Palace Road) from 9.00am to 1.00pm on Thursday August 31st to distribute information about Lorna’s case.

So the company which cannot afford to honour its agreement with the Whipps Cross strikers (or so it says) and which has closed its pension scheme, can still find some rewards (you can see which of its people it really thinks of as a “principal asset”!) This is what the Tory/New Labour policy of privatisation means in practice.

I was greatly encouraged by the strength and determination of the strikers. The media have reported that the employers have made an offer to settle the strike – but may have forgotten to mention that this is not an offer to pay all the money the strikers are owed!

The contractor which pays staff working at Whipps Cross barely more than the minimum wage is not a cash strapped concern – they manage to shell out £2.2 Million a year for their Chief Executive! Perhaps this important fact will get noticed by the media tomorrow…

I have blogged before about this important dispute, in which low paid workers are fighting to ensure that a private contractor honours a deal done with a previous contractor. It is important for all workers that the strikers win, so that privateers cannot make their profits at the expense of cutting the pay and conditions of the workforce.

Those who support the Tory/New Labour policy of privatisation need to know that they support the making of profits out of the exploitation of low paid workers. The Whipps Cross strikers and their UNISON branch are in the front line of opposition to those who want our health service to be driven by profit.

If you are reading this then you ought to support this dispute.

Send messages of support to the strikers’ union branch at

Send donations (cheques payable to UNISON) to Chris Remington, Regional Head of Health, UNISON Greater London Region, Congress House, Great Russell Street. London WC1.

Companies like Rentokil Initial are trying to take profits out of our National Health Service. This is why we need to support UNISON’s campaign to defend the health service, and organisations like Keep Our NHS Public.

Jon Rogers
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