The Uber of trade unions
THE UK courier industry is "the ideological manifestation of Tory ideology," where the bosses would have you believe "the marketplace will allow the best people to earn lots of money because they're worthier" or "have more stamina... can cycle faster... or whatever," Mags Dewhurst, bike courier and chair of the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) Couriers and Logistics Branch, told LFB's precarious work conference.
But while riders are told "self-employment is freedom... no one feels liberated, you're earning less than the National Living Wage." And management at CitySprint were "very pissed off that I took them to court."
Mags reported how they won a crowdfunded Employment Tribunal case against Citysprint. She won holiday pay; the Tribunal ruled she was employed.
She described the IWGB as a "small, obnoxious, diverse, low-income union, we use volunteers, I'm one of them... We're the Uber of trade unions... (we) undercut, disrupt." In courier companies, "there's a pecking order" with a few riders "brown-nosing the managers... they think they're earning more, they're not... We had to get the others, who are pissed off. Got loads of people together, had a meeting, voted to join a union, half the people were like 'I don't want to do it, it's scary... We're going to get fired if we join a union.'"
But as Mags put it, "We're going to get fired anyway," for being late, using the radio wrongly, losing a package. "People have so little to lose that It's not such a big deal" to take action. "When you are managed by a smart phone and log in and log out, if everyone decides to log out at the same time it's quite effective!" Adds Mags, "If they want to classify us as thousands of small businesses, we're not protected by strike laws, but we're not shackled" by them either.
With a public street protest planned against CitySprint for just before Christmas, Mags then "got an automated email" announcing an "arbitrary payrise," the first in 20 years. Other companies then couldn't use the argument that CitySprint are driving costs down, the "others then caved in... virtually every cycle courier in London has received a payrise as a result of what we've done."
Bike couriers "are bogusly contracted as independent workers." IWGB have three more cases pending - Ecourier, Excel, "Addy Lee". They're also taking Deliveroo to court over "bogus": self-employment status, "to get collective bargaining and go on recognised strike, we need a ruling on this." Foster carers have also set up own branch of IWGB after seeing the struggle of Mags and colleagues on the BBC. Mags ended with an appeal to "join us on the streets" via @IWGB_CLB.