14 June 2020
This week has seen the first UK key-worker strike of the pandemic, with medical couriers standing up to the global giant Sonic Healthcare, and organising a virtual strike rally. For the last two months these couriers have been transporting Covid-19 samples from London hospitals to pathology labs, playing a vital role in the response to the virus.
We’ve seen low paid workers left on the frontline without adequate protection across all sectors, but one might still have expected that the people walking into hospitals and care homes- the very epicentre of the crisis- retrieving and carrying active samples of the virus, would be given masks. One might have expected that the Covid-19 samples would be packaged according to Public Health England’s guidance. That couriers would be regularly tested, paid to self-isolate if displaying symptoms, and trained in safe handling of the blood samples. And yet, members of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) have been having to fight for these basic health and safety precautions to be put in place by Sonic UK (also known as The Doctor’s Laboratory, a subsidiary of Sonic Healthcare).
The IWGB claims that this transnational, billion dollar company has responded to workers demanding protection for their lives, and from becoming dangerous ‘superspreaders’, by announcing redundancies. 10 couriers now face losing their income in the midst of the pandemic and economic recession. The company blames a ‘downturn in work’, and yet business is booming with a 15% increase in activity during one week in May alone.
Sonic UK’s CEO also excuses their failure to test the couriers, who are sent into hospital wards with high numbers of Covid-19 patients, by claiming that “regular testing is of no value.” This is the same company that is contracted by the NHS to deliver testing.
Profit-driven organisations can present themselves as ethical, building up an image oiled by well funded PR departments, but while the CEO’s salary is the bottom line, workers will be treated as disposable. These private companies have no place receiving public funds. Public ownership is about accountability; when we outsource NHS services to companies run for profit, patients, workers, and the public health all suffer.
The following extracts from Sonic UK’s annual report give a clear warning:
‘The NHS has identified the pathology sector as a possible source of efficiencies in the coming years. We are well placed to take advantage of opportunities created by this initiative…
Substantial growth opportunities exist from potential NHS outsourcing contracts, including current bidding processes for contracts, with potential revenues totalling more than £150M per annum’.
Sonic has made it clear that the price we pay for so-called ‘efficiencies’ is people’s health and livelihoods. We must stand by the principles of our National Health Service and refuse to allow it to be broken up and handed out, for opportunistic companies to ‘take advantage’.
The cause of the 10 couriers is the cause of us all, and their treatment is indicative of an ailing system.
Read the IWGB Dossier here.