— Courier Tribunal Press Release —

7th January 2016

On Friday 6th January 2016, the London Central Employment Tribunal ruled in favour of 29-year-old bicycle courier Maggie Dewhurst, who had taken the UK’s leading sameday courier company, CitySprint UK Ltd, to court in November last year over her employment status.

The tribunal claim was for two days’ unpaid holiday pay, but the real argument was whether couriers should be classified as “independent contractors”, or “workers” in the eyes of UK and EU law. Both statuses are classifications of self-employment, but the former means that each courier is actually an entrepreneur, running a small, independent business and answering only to themselves. The latter, worker status, means that individuals are by trade and practice integrated into the business undertaking of another to such a substantial degree to deserve basic working rights from their employer, including paid holiday leave. In this case the question boiled down to whether Maggie worked for CitySprint or for herself.

The judgment, written by employment Judge Jo Wade, described the tangled deceptions and contradictions underpinning CitySprint’s business model as “contorted, “indecipherable” and “window-dressing”.

Importantly, in paragraph 14 of the judgment, Ms Wade wrote that;

“It is CitySprint which has the power to regulate the amount of work available, and it keeps its couriers busy by limiting the size of the fleet.”

This gets to the heart of the inequality of bargaining power present in this relationship, and shows that this is not a commercial venture between two corporate entities, as claimed by CitySprint.

Jon Katona, Vice-President of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, himself a CitySprint courier who supported Maggie’s claim as a witness in the tribunal, said:

“This is a huge victory for couriers, and workers everywhere who have been asked to sign their rights away for a job. And it’s a warning to other companies that masquerading as a non-employer, or as a go-between for independent businessmen is over. You’re going to have to give your workforce the rights and protections owed to them according to the true working relationship, or we will come after you.”

Maggie Dewhurst, the claimant, and Chair of the IWGB Couriers and Logistics Branch said:

“The Tribunal has shown CitySprint’s operation to be wilfully exploitative, and fuelled by an absurd set of incentives. The reality of a courier’s working life has been exposed; it’s a tough, physically and mentally demanding job, in a low-pay sector – we are not high-flying entrepreneurial executives. CitySprint and its rivals have been using the excuse that their couriers are entrepreneurs for many years, but this was found to be an artificial construction, and that couriers are in a subordinate position. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been playing the game like this, their time is now up.”

Jason Moyer-Lee, the General Secretary of the IWGB, said:

“The CitySprint ruling proves that we have been saying all along is true: these gig economy employers have been unlawfully depriving workers of their rights. CitySprint’s response that the government needs to clarify the law is laughable. The law is clear and CitySprint have been on the wrong side of it. We will now be writing to the other three courier companies against whom we have pending claims and asking them to concede defeat on this matter.”

CitySprint tried to fight this case by claiming their couriers enjoy many freedoms, such as flexibility and high pay, but even their own witnesses failed to demonstrate this to be reality. Simon Baker, Head of Fleet and Compliance at CitySprint asserted that couriers may expand their businesses by bribing staff in loading bays in order to be allocated more work. This was just about the most laughable claim of the entire case, and is illustrative of CitySprint’s ruthless attitude towards its hard-working couriers.

The Tribunal also found that CitySprint would be in breach of its contract with HCA International, which forbids CitySprint to subcontract, if it allowed Ms Dewhurst to further subcontract, which is a key right for those people actually running a business.

In paragraph 64, Judge Wade said that the very title of the contract, arose her suspicion that it “may have been generated by the “army of lawyers” described by Mr Justice Elias in ‘Kalwak’”; and in paragraph 65 that the “tick box exercise on recruitment…acts as an effective barrier to employment exacerbates that suspicion and illustrates the inequality of bargaining power.”

Earlier in paragraph 56, Judge Wade concluded that “any concept of her [Maggie] operating a business is a sham”.

We look forward to changing the entire industry and gaining basic worker rights for those suffering in the brutal and exploitative courier industry and its younger brother, the gig economy.

CONTACTS:
Maggie Dewhurst 07957934250, maggiedewhurst@iwgb.co.uk
Jon Katona 07871319650, jonkatona@iwgb.co.uk

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