Published On: 28th February 2023

The Public Interest Law Centre (PILC), on behalf of the Frontline Migrant Health Workers’ Group (FMHWG), made a renewal application to the Covid-19 Inquiry. On 16 February 2023 the Chair of the Inquiry granted FMHWG Core Participant status in Module 3.

Unfortunately we will not be in a position to speak today due to the late notification from the Inquiry that the FMHWG were granted Core Participant status. However, we support the call from the legal representatives of the Trade Union Congress in their submissions for there to be an additional Preliminary Hearing in Autumn. (para. 20)

PILC represents the FMHWG which comprises three organisations, Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, United Voices of the World and Kanlungan, which were on the frontline of the pandemic.

Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB)

The IWGB is a national trade union founded in 2012 by Latin American cleaners organising for better working conditions at the University of London. Their membership has expanded to include cycling instructors, charity workers, yoga teachers, and private hire drivers. The IWGB have members directly employed by the NHS, and also members who are outsourced workers serving the NHS.

Their members are grouped as:

  1. Cleaners: the IWGB represent cleaners throughout various workplaces across London. Including several hospitals.
  1. Couriers: many members were involved in carrying covid tests across London – often with no PPE.
  1. Private Hire Drivers: the IWGB represents private hire drivers. They became an alleged ‘safer’ way to travel during the pandemic as many tried to avoid public modes of transport for fear of virus exposure. This included many hospital workers who largely used Ubers during lockdowns. This followed an offer by Uber to provide free transport to NHS workers.

The IWGB is organised to challenge exploitative practices which deny its members basic worker rights. Campaigns have been run and strike action has been taken to enforce the minimum wage, sick pay, and health and safety protections. Members are overwhelmingly from BAME backgrounds in low-paid and precarious employment – many in the health service. The IWGB is at the forefront of organising workers previously unorganised.

The United Voices of the World (UVW)

The UVW is a national trade union. It organises predominantly low paid, migrant and precariously employed workers who are on short term contracts, or work in the gig economy. UVW is a member-led campaigning trade union and it has been established to organise, support and empower predominantly BAME and migrant workers in the UK.

The UVW brings together workers across several sectors, but the most relevant for Module 3 are those working as cleaners, security guards, caterers and porters in the NHS. Whilst many of the members work in the Health Service, many are in fact employed in outsourced companies that service the NHS. Subsequently their working terms and conditions are worse than those workers from established trade unions directly employed by the NHS itself.

The UVW has run several campaigns to ensure their members, who are or were outsourced, are brought back ‘in-house’ to the main employer – the NHS. This campaigning and industrial action has highlighted that outsourced workers are receiving worse pay, and terms and conditions of employment. During the pandemic, these outsourced workers were often the last to be considered for PPE, proper sick pay, and had problems accessing the furlough scheme.

Kanlungan

Kanlungan is a charity organising and supporting the Filipino and Southeast and East Asian community in the UK. This includes many from these communities engaged in low-paid and precarious employment. Just as with the membership of UVW and IWGB, during the pandemic, these workers were often the last to be considered for PPE, and had issues accessing proper sick pay and the furlough scheme.

As with UVW and IWGB, a significant number of those that Kanlungan are representing in the Inquiry are employed under outsourced contracts, which gives them an entirely distinct viewpoint from those organisations primarily working directly for the NHS or other private operators.

Kanlungan additionally works with undocumented migrants. Kanlungan’s research has shown that undocumented migrants (also often employed through outsourced organisations) were put in particularly precarious and unsafe working conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic as they felt unable to challenge their employer due to fears of being reported to the Home Office.

These issues emerged both within the NHS and the wider healthcare sector, where undocumented cleaners and healthcare workers were placed in dangerous positions not experienced by their more professional colleagues.

Conclusion:

We look forward to representing the FMHWG and putting the voices of the underpaid, outsourced, migrant working class to the Inquiry.

The legal team consists of:

Piers Marquis (Doughty Street Chambers)

Paul Heron – Senior Solicitor (Public Interest law Centre)

Helen Mowatt – Solicitor (Public Interest Law Centre)

Juliet Galea-Glennie – Paralegal (Public Interest Law Centre)