(Mitie’s and its client’s sick decisions)
Inadequate sick pay has contributed towards the spread of Covid-19 in the UK, yet Mitie, a leading government contractor, has not paid sick pay on key Covid-19 and NHS contracts.
If a business does not pay company sick pay, workers have to rely on £95 a week statutory sick pay (SSP). This discourages them, especially the low-paid, from responding to symptoms, testing or properly isolating. Mitie has an ongoing contract to run many Covid- 19 test centres in a deal that is worth £32 million over just the first 6 months.
In January, Mitie’s Inverness test centre was closed after a Covid-19 outbreak among staff. Mitie denied many of the accusations levelled at it by the investigative website, the Ferret, that almost half of the 40 staff were infected and that measures to mitigate infections were inadequate. It could not deny, though, that its workers only get the minimal £95 a week SSP.
Mitie has also run sick-pay-free cleaning and catering services in hospitals. At the West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, it has 400 staff. The GMB Union campaigned in 2020 for its members to receive full wages while sick rather than SSP, because they were on the Covid-19 frontline. In April 2020, the NHS Trust agreed to pay Mitie extra to fund this. This sick pay scheme was stopped without notice in October when the second wave was getting into full flow. The GMB got active and campaigned again. This month, the Trust and Mitie reinstated full sick pay and backdated it to cover those who had to take time off last year. Mitie blames the Trust for setting the terms of pay and sick pay. It could not be expected to pay its workers more than it had bargained for (even in the middle of a pandemic!) and was doing all that it could.
Mitie made £48 million annual profit, according to its latest accounts. It is not short of cash. It is also arguable that both it and its ‘clients’, ie the government, are jointly responsible for the sick pay crisis. The Department of Health and Social Care priced the outdoor testing centre contracts without sick pay included. In hospitals, NHS Improvements introduced guidance and payments underwriting sick pay for subcontracted staff last year but payments stopped in October.
The GMB claims that without its campaign in West Herts, staff would still not get sick pay, but it “applauded” West Herts NHS Trust for using its own funds to cover the reinstated sick pay as the government was no longer funding it. The pandemic has exposed the failings of outsourcing. Politicians claim that it is necessary so that the tax payer gets value for money. The average daily pay of a NHS Test & Trace consultant is £1,100. Test & Trace, it is universally agreed, has not provided value for money but it has provided incomes for government supporters. Meanwhile, NHS workers and patients are working with and being cared for by people who are not being supported enough to have time off when they become unwell.