What your courier company wants to keep a secret: the alternatives to being an “Independent Contractor” and what benefits you’ve been missing all these years as a courier, explained below…..
If you’re a courier working in Central London or anywhere else in the U.K., chances are your company employs you as an “Independent Contractor.” Which means you’re self-employed, pay your own tax, and are free to choose whatever hours you want to work (theoretically).
“I.C.” status also means you are entitled to exactly ZERO rights and benefits from your company. This includes paid holidays, sick pay, protection from discrimination and trade union victimization, plus many many others.
For years most couriers have assumed missing out on these benefits was the price we had to pay to preserve our “freedom”: the flexibility of our working hours, our status as self-employed individuals, and not going on P.A.Y.E.
The reality is: “Independent Contractor” status is just one version of being self-employed – and it’s the one that offers the least advantages to the self-employed person (no holiday pay, protections, etc.) Not surprisingly, this is the status our companies force us to assume when they present us with contracts to sign.
But just because we sign a piece of paper, doesn’t make it true – or legal, according to masses of case law. Courts look at the real relationship between company and worker in practice– not what’s on paper – to decide what type of worker status they should really be classified in.
Very current case law actually indicates our present relationship with our companies is NOT that typical of an ‘Independent Contractor’. This is what the tribunals are all about. The tribunals are challenging the idea that couriers are “Independent Contractors”.
Does this mean we’ll lose our freedom, our flexibility, and our self-employed status? The answer is NO! If you want to remain self-employed there are other options open to you – you could be a self-employed “Worker”, for example, and as such NOTHING about your current flexible work schedule, your freedom from contractual obligations, or not being on P.A.Y.E. would change. What would change would be that you would be automatically entitled to more benefits, including:
- getting [at the very least] the National Minimum Wage
- protection against unlawful deductions from wages
- the statutory minimum level of paid holiday
- the statutory minimum length of rest breaks
- to not work more than 48 hours on average per weekor to opt out of this right if they choose
- protection against unlawful discrimination
- protection for ‘whistleblowing’– reporting wrongdoing in the workplace
- to not be treated less favourably if they work part-time
What does all this mean? If you want to stay self-employed, the bottom of the barrel choice is being classed as an “Independent Contractor” – you’d much rather be a self-employed “Worker” and enjoy loads of rights and protections, including paid holiday, without sacrificing any freedoms, flexibility, or being forced to go on P.A.Y.E.
Some couriers even want to be classed as “Employees”, and as such would gain paid maternity/paternity leave for having kids, and sick pay, among a host of other benefits. Under “Zero Hours” Employee contracts, this wouldn’t even mean sacrificing any flexibility in choosing your own hours. Fair enough.
The sad reality is that your company has made the choice for you in the contract they made you sign. They’ve forced you to classify yourself as an “Independent Contractor” because it saves them LOADS of money, while short-changing you of benefits you ought to already be enjoying. Not for long.
The tribunals will be key in opening up a dialogue between couriers and companies. Soon the companies will have to answer questions like:
- “If I’m an “Independent Contractor” running my own business, how come I don’t have any say in setting the rates I earn?”
- “How come I really only work for one company, wear their Uniform, and act like a representative of the company to customers?”
- “Since I really market my services to courier companies, not to the world in general, how come I’m classed as an ‘Independent Contractor’ and not a ‘Worker’?”
- “How come NONE of the couriers who work for my courier company have dictated any of the terms and conditions in their contract?”
It’s an exciting time to be a courier with the prospect of so much to gain from the upcoming tribunals. The Claimants have strong, esteemed and dedicated legal support behind them, and a mass of case law setting precedents in their favour.
If you still think this process will do harm rather than good, please come to the Open meeting for Q & A with IWGB President Dr. Jason Moyer-Lee and other union reps TONIGHT at 7pm. All are welcome.
80 Lambs Conduit Street
London WC1N 3LZ
(basement entrance round the back of the building)