Cycle couriers have launched a legal bid to earn the minimum wage and the right to holidays and sick pay.
Test cases are being brought against London’s four main courier firms in a bid to end “meagre” pay of as little as £2 per job.
The capital’s army of “several hundred” bike couriers are normally hired as “independent contractors”, depriving them of a series of employment rights and meaning some can earn less than the equivalent of the £7.20 per hour minimum wage.
Couriers Chris Gascoigne, Demille Flanore, Andrew Boxer and Maggie Dewhurst have lodged employment tribunal claims against their respective firms – Addison Lee, eCourier, Excel Group Services and CitySprint.
Their crowdfunded action is being supported by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, which claims their classification as independent contractors is “bogus”. The couriers are seeking a written statement of their terms and conditions and “unpaid” holiday pay.
Dr Jason Moyer-Lee, president of IWGB, told the Standard: “If we get a ruling in our favour it will affect the entire cycling industry.
“The way that case law has developed is that even if a person signs a contract saying they are an independent contractor, the courts can still rule that that is not actually what they are if the nature of their contractual relationship is like a worker or employee.”
Couriers normally have to collect parcels within 20 minutes and deliver them within an hour. Items for delivery can range from precious jewels and large amounts of cash to human organs, chemotherapy medicine or legal documents.
Riders are tracked by the GPS and normally have to purchase a uniform – and hire a radio and GPS tracker – from the firm they represent. They claim that rates are kept low as companies are always looking to undercut their rivals.
Dr Moyer-Lee said: “It’s a dangerous job. There is no sick pay, no holiday pay and they’re earning so little. It just takes one bad accident and your whole life is turned upside down.”
Ms Dewhurst said: “Couriers shouldn’t be the ones suffering financially, mentally, emotionally and physically because some company that they work for can’t be bothered to pay them or afford them normal employment rights. There should be something somewhere that provides a tiny bit of regulation.”
Courier Demille Flanore, 22, said: “I honestly believe that our contract status is bogus. The amount you make is not relative to the workload. You are in constant danger 100 per cent of the time.”
A protest is planned outside Bloomberg, one of eCourier’s biggest clients, on Wednesday (April 6). The couriers are being represented by two barristers from Cloisters chambers: Jason Galbraith-Marten QC and Sarah Fraser Butlin, who also lectures at Cambridge university. The first of the cases, the claim against Addison Lee, is provisionally scheduled to open in June.
While a successful claim would only result in securing the minimum wage for couriers, the union, which has more than 100 couriers as members, is pushing for them to receive the London living wage of £9.40 per hour.
A spokesman for Addison Lee said it paid its couriers the best rate of £3 a job and was surprised to have been included in the action. “I can confirm we have received papers,” he said. “We are going to robustly defend the claim.”
A CitySprint spokesman said: “We are aware of the ongoing campaign being run by IWGB. However we have not received any formal notification of a tribunal process, and as a result we cannot comment on this at this stage.
“We’re very proud of our fleet and offer them the opportunity to achieve among the highest earnings in the industry. The fact that a significant number of our couriers have worked with us for more than five years is testament to this.”
eCourier said it had not heard formally about any claim. It said: “eCourier is a leading provider in the UK same day delivery market and we are proud that our pushbike couriers are among the best paid in London, with typical average earnings on or around the London Living Wage.
“Our pushbike couriers are self-employed, choose their own hours and are paid per item delivered. They can participate in an eCourier bonus scheme, while also being free to work for other delivery companies. We recently implemented a series of measures and changes in our Pushbike pay structure resulting in a further net improvement in pushbike courier earnings of around eight per cent.
“The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which is not recognised by eCourier, has approached us with a series of demands which we believe are unreasonable and inconsistent with the self-employed business model upon which virtually the whole UK courier business is based. We have discussed the position with all of our pushbike couriers and there is no evidence of support for the IWGB position, or change of employment status within our courier fleet. The IWGB have refused to state how many – if any – of our couriers they represent.”