How cleaners confronted Great Ormond Street Hospital in court over alleged institutional racism

With Government fears over similar "copycat" cases

GOSH cleaners

In the first lawsuit of its kind to be brought against an NHS Trust, cleaners have taken Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) to court over alleged institutional racism.

The ten-day tribunal hearing took place on 1st March when a group of 80 cleaners, and members of United Voices of the World (UVW) union, confronted their employer over claims of indirect race discrimination.

The cleaners, who are black, brown and migrant workers, are claiming compensation worth over £10 million for the years they did not receive NHS pay rates due to their labour being outsourced.

The case for the workers says the cleaners were outsourced on lesser terms and conditions than other directly employed GOSH workers, which highlighted structural inequality in the hospital workforce.

After campaigning, cleaners won the case to be brought in-house in 2021, when the hospital ditched its cleaning private contractors and employed them as NHS workers.

However UVW believes there were unreasonable and unnecessary delays to bringing the cleaners to full NHS pay rates.

Cleaners are therefore seeking compensation for the years they were employed privately under inferior terms to the contracted NHS staff.

Results of the hearing aren’t expected for a couple of months, with the union claiming the tribunal could cost GOSH over £12 million. If the court votes in favour of the workers, the 80 members participating in the legal action could be awarded between £80,000 and £190,000 each.

Speaking from the court, one claimant, Genevieve, told UVW that they were standing up for their rights after being ‘cheated’ for a long time.

“I am standing up for my rights because we’ve been cheated for a very long time and this has made me feel very bad at work,” Genevieve said.

“We stood firm and we fought to be brought back in house and we won. Now we will use the courts to right an injustice.”

A Great Ormond Street Hospital spokesperson said: “Treating our workforce fairly is of vital importance to us.  

“Our cleaning and domestic services colleagues are valued members of our team and we welcomed them directly into NHS employment in August 2021.

“For the past 18 months we have worked closely with our staff and their representatives and almost all our domestic services staff are now on or have been offered the option to transfer to NHS terms and conditions.

“The majority of these staff have been on NHS terms and conditions for nearly a year. This has been a complex process because staff had a number of different contractual arrangements which were protected by law on transfer.

“It would be inappropriate to comment any further on the claims during the course of ongoing Tribunal proceedings.”

Government’s fear of “copycat” claims

In 2021, cleaners for the Royal Parks won a similar case of indirect race discrimination based on the outsourcing of labour.

The group of 16 UVW members won the historic Employment Tribunal claim against the outsourcing of a group of majority black, brown and migrant workers employed as park and toilet attendants.

The Employment Tribunal found the decision by the Royal Parks not to pay the outsourced workers the London Living Wage from 2014-2019 as amounted to indirect race discrimination.

By paying outsourced, predominantly black workers less money than in-house majority white staff amounted to indirect race discrimination.  

However, following the results of the tribunal, the Government Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport sought to intervene by supporting an appeal against the judgement by the Royal Parks.

In a letter, seen by LFF, the Government Legal Department said they believed the tribunal’s judgement held a ‘significant risk’ of “copycat” claims being brought by outsourced workers.

The Royal Parks and Government appeal against the tribunal results will be heard in April this year.

Hannah Davenport is trade union reporter at Left Foot Forward

(Photo credit: United Voices of the World)

Left Foot Forward’s trade union reporting is supported by the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust

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