Gig economy ruling: Couriers carrying blood for NHS win right to collective bargaining

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A union for couriers delivering vital blood supplies to NHS hospitals has won the right to recognition from an employer in a victory for gig economy workers.

It is the culmination of a lengthy battle for the International Workers’ Union of Great Britain and couriers at The Doctors Laboratory. 

TDL is a private firm that provides outsourced delivery services for the NHS.

“We were forced to unionise since every time we went to management with a concern we were being ignored,” said TDL courier and IWGB union representative Alex Marshall. 

“It is quite reassuring that we will now be taken more seriously and have a seat at the table to negotiate what we are rightly entitled to.”

The employer had refused to recognise the union but the Central Arbitration Committee declared that the IWGB should be recognised. The IWGB can now bargain on behalf of the couriers, meaning it can now negotiate wages and working conditions.

Like many couriers working for companies such as CitySprint, Hermes and DPD, riders for TDL were treated as independent contractors. In June last year, the company accepted that they were workers after a complaint from IWGB.

Last month, after further legal action, TDL conceded in an out-of-court settlement that two of its couriers were in fact employees, meaning that they are entitled to full employment rights including sick pay. All of the couriers will now be able to collectively bargain thanks to the latest CAC decision.

Unlike workers and employees, independent contractors do not have the right to form collective bargaining units, to the minimum wage or to holiday pay.

Jonathan Chamberlain, a partner at the law firm Gowling WLG, said the case marks an “important step forward” for gig economy unionisation.

“While it is not a landmark as a legal decision, it will encourage similar cases across the gig economy and gives a great demonstration of what can be won,” he said.

“This is a case that is going to cause a great deal of concern amongst gig economy companies,” he said.

IWGB general secretary, Jason Moyer-Lee said: “The TDL couriers have shown that organising and winning in the so-called ‘gig economy’ is possible. 

“Contrary to the Government’s empty platitudes about giving workers a stronger voice, the best way for gig economy workers to have a voice at work is to establish collective bargaining arrangements between their union and their employer.”

The union has also launched a £1m holiday pay claim against TDL on behalf of 50 couriers.