Royal London hospital patients facing meal disruption in Serco bullying and roster dispute

Patients at the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel could face disruption at mealtimes this spring, if workers employed by outsourcer Serco take strike action in a dispute over bullying and the imposition of new rotas.

Bullying concerns

The workers, who are members of Unite, the UK’s leading union, and are based in the hospital’s back of house catering department, responsible for getting meals to patients on wards, have been attempting to resolve the problems of bullying and a chaotic roster without success since July.

The workforce had a new rota imposed on them, without agreement, which has been described as ‘chaotic and unworkable’, with irregular shifts spread over a 15 week period, including split rest days, which make it impossible for members to juggle childcare and caring responsibilities or achieve any work/life balance. Some members have been forced to drop out of college as they can no longer predict when they will have to be at work.

Members at breaking points 

Management bullying tactics have seen aggressive use of sickness absence triggers and abuse of power in the allocation of shifts and holidays, which have taken members to breaking point during the pandemic. 

The ballot opened on Tuesday 30 March and will close on Tuesday 19 April.

No option

Unite regional officer, Ruth Hydon, said: “Unite has spent months trying to resolve this dispute through negotiation, without success. As a result, members felt they had no option but to ballot for industrial action.

“These are key workers who have worked throughout the pandemic to continue to ensure patients receive their meals and it is deplorable that they are suffering persistent bullying.

“Serco has imposed a rota which is completely unworkable and is causing widespread distress to our members. Serco has utterly failed to consider the mental and physical health and wellbeing of our members.

“If strikes do occur it will cause widespread disruption throughout the hospital. Unite has made clear that it believes these matters can be resolved through negotiation, but it is down to Serco to table realistic proposals to end the bullying and reform the rota system.”

Serco problems

Industrial relations with Serco are becoming increasingly troubled, Unite is already balloting for industrial action in Ealing where the company has been accused of union busting on the council’s traffic management contract.