Key workers confront Tory MP with plea for help

Sally-Ann Hart outside Conquest Hospital, Hastings
Sally-Ann Hart outside Conquest Hospital, Hastings, where the efforts of staff have not been fully recognised. Photo credit:

After decades of going unnoticed, the pandemic has revealed just how much we rely on key workers. From rainbows in our windows to clapping for carers, the pandemic has brought the best out in people, showing how we can pull together and look after each other.

“But we know key workers need more than applause and appreciation,” said Jonathan Lee, secretary of Hastings & District Trades Union Council. “They need action. They need a pay rise.”

Which is the proposition they put to Hastings & Rye’s Conservative MP Sally-Ann Hart when they invited her last week (22 February) to take part in an online Microsoft Teams meeting. Among others, she heard from NHS staff from the Conquest Hospital who kept caring for patients when hospitals everywhere were at breaking point.

Paul Jones, a porter at the Conquest Hospital, said “With the NHS pay rise delayed, I feel disheartened and used. Considering that it was key workers who kept the country going. So all those claps were for nothing.”

In Hastings, according to 2019 data from the Office of National Statistics, around a third (33.1%) of the town’s workforce are considered key workers. As well as hospital and care staff, they include transport workers, retail workers and teachers.

The Trades Union Council has calculated that 3,785 key workers within Hastings & Rye have not received even a small 2.4% pay rise. As well as losing out themselves, the loss to the local economy amounts to £3,107,978. “Key workers spend locally and support local businesses. They are such an important part of the local economy,” said Lee.

Following the meeting, the Hastings & Rye MP has written separately to chancellor Rishi Sunak to pass on the concerns of those present. She promised to take up some of the individual issues raised but told them she would not be backing the TUC campaign calling for the chancellor to commit to fair pay for key workers in his Budget this week.

Rachel Gordon, an NHS Mental Health PA, said: “I am thankful that Ms Hart took the time to listen to us, so many of her colleagues won’t give us the time of day, but disappointed that she won’t be publicly backing the pay rise for key workers.

“I hope that the continued effort of the supporters will be enough to convince the chancellor of the importance of this pay rise and the impact that it will have on both us as key workers plus the benefits to the economy itself.”

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Lee makes the connection between better pay and the effect on workers of being under-valued. He said: “The overwhelming message I got from the meeting is that the detrimental impact of the pandemic on workers at the frontline will be evident for a long time into the future.

“In particular, I have deep concerns about the mental health of key workers and the feeling that they are not valued. Action is needed now to ensure that those who have supported us all are rightly rewarded.”

The text of the open letter which Sally-Ann Hart declined to sign is as follows:

Dear Chancellor

We are writing as a group of MPs to raise our concerns about announcements made on pay for key workers in your Spending Review of November 2020.

Key workers across a range of sectors in our constituencies have put themselves on the line to serve our communities and keep our economy going in this unprecedented crisis.

Many of those key workers are telling us that they do not feel they are getting the recognition they deserve or are being properly valued for their work.

Many are public service workers facing another government imposed pay freeze.

We call on you to use the March budget to revise your proposals and give key workers the fair pay they deserve and that our economy needs.

We call on you to give key workers a pay rise.

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