Covid-19 couriers to vote on strike action over redundancies and health concerns

Thu, May 7, 2020, 7:21 AM

  • NHS contractor The Doctors Laboratory (TDL) is making ten couriers redundant at the height of the pandemic
  • TDL has refused a number of health and safety demands made by its medical couriers
  • TDL has made over £28m in profits in 2019 from its contracts with the NHS and private hospitals

7 May: Medical couriers transporting Covid-19 samples on behalf of NHS pathology contractor The Doctors Laboratory (TDL) are to vote on strike action, in response to the company’s decision to make redundancies during the pandemic, and its failure to address health and safety concerns.

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) last night issued a notice of strike ballot to TDL. This follows the company’s announcement on 1 May that it would start a 30-day consultation with a view to make ten bicycle couriers and “walkers” redundant.

The decision by TDL to use the cover of the pandemic to carry out a restructuring of its courier division is a slap in the face to workers that have put themselves at personal risk to ensure the safety of others. TDL couriers have for the last two months been going into hospitals with a high concentration of Covid-19 patients to pick up Covid-19 samples and deliver them safely to pathology labs.

The strike is also a result of the company’s failure to address a number of demands the workers have made to ensure their health and safety. Despite repeated demands the company has failed to:

  • Give full pay to workers that need to self-isolate because they are over-60 or have pre-existing medical conditions that put them at particular risk if they contract Covid-19
  • Regularly test medical couriers for Covid-19
  • Reinstate Joe Williams, a courier with diabetes and other serious medical conditions, who was unfairly dismissed during the pandemic
  • Provide proper PPE to medical couriers
  • Implement social distancing where possible within the company’s loading bay

TDL has more than enough money to cover the costs of these measures if it wanted to. The company’s profits have steadily increased from £6m in 2008 to over £28m last year, yet couriers that put their health on the line have barely seen a fraction of this money.

Instead, the company has paid a total of £75m in dividends to its Australian parent company Sonic Healthcare between 2014 and 2018.

TDL cycle courier and IWGB couriers and logistics branch chair Alex Marshall said: “I’m incredibly proud of the work we do. While most people have been making efforts to stay as far away from the virus as possible, we have literally been carrying it on our backs. But TDL’s hypocrisy knows no bounds. The company was sending emails asking people to clap for key workers on Thursday and then told us we’d be getting sacked on Friday. Their absolute negligent attitude has left us no choice but to take industrial action.”

TDL motorbike courier Terry Houlihan said: “I recently suffered a stroke, have high pressure, borderline diabetes and asthma, so I feel unsafe working in close proximity to people infected with Covid-19, let alone carrying it on my bike. I approached the company about my concerns and all they did was tell me to wash my hands and keep my distance. This is impossible in the job we do. I took the responsible decision to self-isolate, but the company has done nothing to support me. Instead, I’ve been left with no option but to apply for Universal Credit and council tax reduction.”

The IWGB represents the majority of the 140 medical couriers working for TDL in London and the South East. The strike ballot will run from 13 to 27 May.

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