Couriers: push the courts, organise at work

Submitted by AWL on 19 January, 2021 - 6:12 Author: Michael Elms
IWGB activists

An important legal case is in the works. A claim for holiday pay and the minimum wage for couriers working for food delivery app Stuart (the delivery arm of JustEat) is being brought to court by law firm Leigh Day.

In December 2019 a judge found that a courier employed by Stuart was not an “independent” contractor, but a “dependent” contractor, also known in legal jargon as a “limb (b) worker” — the reason being that a courier working for Stuart is obliged to accept a food order if no other worker picks it up. That means that theoretically, all couriers working for Stuart have a claim on backdated holiday pay for the whole period of their work with Stuart; back pay for any shortfall between their pay and the National Minimum Wage; and the right to paid holidays and minimum wage in the future.

If the court upholds this ruling, the consequences for Stuart and for the whole “self-employed” app-based courier business may be major. Precisely for that reason, it seems likely that judges will come under pressure from the ruling class to save Stuart’s bacon. While it’s right that the union is pursuing a win in the courts, ultimately the only guarantee of success lies in workers’ organisation and action.

Meanwhile workers in Sheffield and South Yorkshire are continuing to organise. Emboldened by the union’s activity and following discussions with newly-unionised workers in Sheffield, groups of food couriers in nearby towns are contacting the union. For the union, spreading co-ordinated action beyond Sheffield is surely a strategic priority.

In Sheffield itself the focus of the union in the first weeks of the year has been on local issues: restaurant managers refusing to let drivers use the bathroom when they pick up food (a breach of a directive from the Health and Safety Executive), and a private car park firm issuing a whole series of unjustified parking tickets outside a much-visited restaurant, stinging low-waged workers for as much as ÂŁ160.

As well as fighting the tickets individually through appeals, the union plans to start a collective campaign by all drivers against this extortion and abuse.

• Hannah Thompson is wild-swimming every day in January to raise money for the South Yorkshire Couriers’ Network Strike Fund. Contribute here

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