A migrant cleaner at an intensive care unit in London had to be hospitalised for days after bosses “ignored” her painful, long-term condition.
Minervina Tanganho, from Portugal, is among dozens of St Mary’s Hospital workers who have been protesting against their employer – outsourcing giant Sodexo – over pay and working conditions.
The 58-year-old has fibromyalgia, which causes muscle pain all over her body, and said she is among three “domestics” responsible for cleaning the 16-bed intensive care unit at the hospital.
She told EachOther how she returned to work on 30 October after two days on the picket line.
“The place was very dirty and I became very nervous because I have to do everything. My blood pressure goes up,” she said. “The next day, when I go back to the strike I feel very dizzy. I see everything go dark and had to sit down in a chair.
“I don’t remember much because some one took me inside the hospital. I stayed in there for one week.”
Minervina has been working at the hospital since 2006, and said that she had asked supervisors to transfer her to a smaller section of the hospital and not be required to do physically taxing “deep cleans.”
This course of action is recommended in a doctor’s note from June this year, seen by EachOther, which said that if Minervina’s “workload is too heavy it will cause her fibromyalgia to get worse.”
Minervina said she has shown this note to two different supervisors but it has been “ignored.” A Sodexo spokeswoman said that it had no record of a request to take disability into account.
There are now plans to double the size of the intensive care ward that Minervina cleans to 32 beds.
Weeks of strikes against government outsourcing have been taking place across the country, coordinated by the United Voices of the World Union.
Petros Elia, co-founder and organiser of the union, said: “It is an example of a complete disregard for workers’ wellbeing. She is in need of reasonable adjustments yet her workload is heavier than it used to be. They are treated as totally disposable people.”
He said that the outsourcing firms attempt to reduce costs by paying “poverty wages”, reducing staff to the bare minimum and imposing “disciplinarian” working conditions which leave employees feeling scared to take sick leave or go to the toilet.
This will negatively affect patient safety and hygiene in hospitals if outsourced staff are coming in with illnesses, he added.
He said the union is considering mounting a legal bid arguing the government’s use of outsourcing constitutes indirect discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, with staff predominantly from black, minority ethnic, or migrant backgrounds.
The Act makes it illegal for public authorities to treat employees unfavourably on the basis of a “protected characteristic” – such as race, disability, or sexual orientation.
A Sodexo spokeswoman said: “We take the wellbeing of all our employees very seriously.
“All employees at St Mary’s are entitled to contractual sick pay. We have no record of a request to take into account a disability and we are looking into this further to ensure that all our employees receive the necessary support to carry out their work safely.”
The Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs St Mary’s Hospital, was approached for comment.