Migrant NHS cleaner behind viral video will carry on fight for workers’ rights

Hassan Akkad helped force a Government U-turn on a policy excluding support staff from a scheme offered to other migrant NHS workers.

Hassan Akkad in his hospital scrubs and PPE
Hassan Akkad in his hospital scrubs and PPE

An NHS hospital cleaner has promised to continue fighting for the rights of migrant workers in NHS support roles after a short film he made challenging the Government went viral.

Hassan Akkad is thought to have been instrumental in the Government’s decision to extend a scheme offering indefinite leave to remain to the families of NHS staff who die as a result of contracting coronavirus.

Initially the scheme was only offered to certain occupations, including nurses, biochemists and radiographers, and ignored support staff such as cleaners, porters and care workers.

On Wednesday, Mr Akkad – a Syrian refugee – posted a short clip of himself addressing the Prime Minister on Twitter in his car dressed in his scrubs expressing his feelings of shock and betrayal at being excluded from the policy.

Within the day, the Home Office confirmed the scheme had been extended to include cleaners, porters, social care and care home staff and will be effective immediately and retrospectively.

Addressing the Prime Minister, Mr Akkad said in the clip: “I have been really enjoying the clapping that you and your fellow ministers in the Government do every week but today however I felt betrayed, stabbed in the back.

“I felt shocked to find out that your Government decided to exclude myself and my colleagues who work as cleaners and porters and social care workers.

“We are all on minimum wage, you have decided to exclude us from the bereavement scheme, so if I die from coronavirus my partner isn’t allowed indefinite leave to remain.”

Mr Akkad, who is also a Bafta-award winning filmmaker and photographer, added: “This is your way of saying thank you to us.

“Now I am sending you this message hoping you will reconsider because I did see a humble Boris after you were discharged from hospital, I saw a different Boris.

“So us migrants are on the frontline doing these very demanding jobs to help this nation overcome this pandemic and the least you can do is if we die is give our families indefinite leave to remain.

“Please reconsider and I hope to hear back from you. Thank you.”

He captioned the clip “I hope you can help me get this message delivered to Mr PM Boris Johnson”  and it has been viewed 3.7 million times and been retweeted nearly 50,000 times.

Mr Akkad got his hospital job at the start of the crisis.

At the time, he tweeted: “Honoured to join an army of cleaners disinfecting Covid wards [in] our local hospital after receiving training.

“London has been my home since leaving Syria, and the least I can do is making sure my neighbours and the amazing NHS staff are safe and sound.”

Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, he said: “I think it is happening because the Government doesn’t necessarily go to the corners of hospitals to meet these people who are in the bottom of the pyramid when it comes to payment and when it comes to value and respect.”

Migrant NHS support workers are also not exempt from the NHS surcharge – set to rise to £624 in October – although doctors, nurses and paramedics have been granted a one-year exemption.

Mr Akkad said he would join the call for the surcharge exemption to be extended as well, saying “for us to be charged to access that very same institution, the NHS, it doesn’t make sense”.

“Cleaners and porters and social care workers are disproportionately non-UK nationals and they are on minimum wage, so I feel like the Government always is after the weakest in society – the working class, the immigrants.”

He added: “The bare minimum they can get is some support for their families and value and respect for everything that they’ve done during this difficult time.”

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