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Vigil to remember Liverpool hospital worker

Candlelight vigil to remember Liverpool hospital worker

07 December 2017

A candlelight vigil will be held at St George’s Hall tomorrow (Friday 8 December) to remember a Liverpool hospital worker employed by ISS who tragically died this time last year, and to continue the growing campaign for a humane sick pay scheme for hundreds of Liverpool hospital workers.

ISS, a multinational outsourcing company, stands accused of stripping its workforce at Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospital Trust of a fair sick pay policy. The Liverpool hospital workers are fighting back. 

It meant Freda Smith, who was diagnosed with cancer, felt she was unable to afford to remain off work while trying to recover from surgery (see notes to editors for Freda’s full story). 

Freda, along with hundreds of other workers were stripped of a fair sick pay policy, equivalent to the NHS one after ISS secured a facilities management contract from the trust. It was replaced with an inferior scheme where employees can only accrue 12 sick days per year. This compares to the NHS sick pay scheme where workers get up to six months on full pay and a further six months on half pay. It would take around 15 years’ service with ISS, without a single day off sick to accrue six months on full pay.

The ISS sick pay policy means the most seriously ill, suffering from illnesses like cancer, heart problems, or physical injuries, could face the unacceptable choice of either working when unfit to do so, or facing severe financial difficulties like the ones Freda Smith endured.

Speakers at the candlelight vigil include Ann O’Byrne, deputy mayor of Liverpool city council, Stephen Twigg, MP West Derby and Freda Flattery (Freda Smith’s daughter).

Ann O’Byrne, deputy mayor of Liverpool city council said: “Freda Smith’s family are rightly hurt and angry and I hope this vigil will help them to heal. The members of Liverpool city council today stand shoulder to shoulder with Freda’s family and the ISS workers fighting for a fair sick pay scheme.

“I believe that the ISS sick pay policy is a disgrace and it is time for Aiden Kehoe the CEO of the hospital Trust to intervene and tell ISS to get its house in order. 

Unite regional officer Keith Hutson said: “Our candlelight vigil is to remember the life of Freda Smith, a much loved member of our community. It is also to remember the workers who are fighting against the cruel sick pay scheme which Freda’s family believes forced her back to work. 

“All workers at Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals should have the same sick pay scheme.  ISS must do the right thing and end its attack on sick pay. It’s wrong that workers are being denied access to a humane sick pay scheme while working at a hospital of all places.”

ISS facilities staff provide vital services to the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen Hospitals, cleaning hospital wards, transporting patients around hospital departments and cooking for patients, visitors and staff.

The candlelight vigil will take place at 19:30 at St George’s Hall, St George's Place, Liverpool L1 1JJ. The service will be delivered by Canon Ellen Loudon, the Canon of the Diocese of Liverpool and director of social justice for the Diocese of Liverpool.

ENDS

For more information please contact Ciaran Naidoo on 07768 931 315

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.

Notes to editors:

Freda’s story (as told by Freda’s daughter)

Freda Smith’s (ex ISS employee) family are  very angry at Freda’s treatment, they feel that a fair sick pay scheme would have given Freda more recovery time, a better quality of life, less stress and stopped Freda losing her home and enabled her to have more dignity towards the end of her life.

Both Freda and her husband were originally from the Old Swan area of Liverpool, where they met and married and went on to have three children. Freda’s husband died almost 20 years ago and Freda had to work to support herself and her family.

Freda worked doing domestic cleaning duties for the local NHS in Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen hospitals for a total of 18 years. The first time for about nine and a half years, while the contract was NHS run and then for eight and a half years. During this period ISS took over the contract and cut the sick pay scheme.

Freda  lived in a house with her grandson and their dog, she was immensely popular with her work colleagues. In June 2015 she was diagnosed with lung cancer.  In July 2015 Freda had her left lung removed at the hospital where she worked and was hopeful of a recovery. Due to the reduced sick pay which was now just 12 days full pay (workers can accrue a maximum of 12 days sick pay per year based on a clean sickness record, though this is not capped). Freda had no option but to try to return to work as soon as possible,  as she was falling into debt.  

Freda’s family had huge concerns over how this would affect her recovery.  After six months she returned to her job and did reduced work for just two weeks, she constantly struggled.  

Over the next few months Freda's weight plummeted and she became really ill. The statutory sick pay which she was receiving was not enough to pay her bills, it was either buy food, go hungry or pay a bill. These decisions when you know that you are terminally ill, were extremely hard and stressful for Freda. This hardship finally resulted in Freda losing her home, spending her time sleeping between her family’s  and friend’s homes. 

In October Freda was admitted to the hospital where she had worked and on 8 December 2016 she passed away. Her daughter says Freda never had an empty room and lots of her work colleagues visited her. Freda was just 64 years old, and her funeral was on 21 December 2016.