Courier firm accused of targeting union activists for redundancy

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  • May 28, 2020
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A courier company that delivers coronavirus samples for testing has been plunged into an industrial dispute over the dismissal of staff who claim they are being victimised for trade union and whistleblowing activities.

The confrontation at the Doctors Laboratory (TDL) in London relates to 10 cycle and walking couriers who have been told they are likely to be made redundant during the pandemic.

Eight of those affected are taking claims to an employment tribunal, supported by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which represents people working in the gig economy.

TDL, which transports Covid-19 samples, denies its employees have been put at risk. It says no one has been chosen for redundancy because of their whistleblowing or trade union activities.

The company says those affected are in central London, where there has been a “significant downturn” in business and where cycle and walking couriers mainly work.

The dispute escalated on Wednesday after IWGB members at the company voted to strike in protest at the redundancies and over safety issues in transporting medical samples, according to the union.

TDL has more than 150 couriers, about half of whom are members of the IWGB. There have been previous disputes at the company in which a number of those now likely to lose their jobs were participants.

In legal arguments submitted to the employment tribunal on behalf of the claimants, lawyers said: “The claimants all feel victimised for daring to take part in trade union activities and these decisions will have terrible consequences on their private and family lives.

“Many of the claimants have children to support and wonder how they will be able to adequately support them if they are dismissed and unable to find a job.”

Jason Moyer-Lee, the general secretary of the IWGB, said: “The company has selected the most active trade union members including the main trade union representative, Alex Marshall, [for redundancy].”

TDS said in a statement: “It’s exceptionally disappointing that a minority of our couriers have voted to strike in the midst of this pandemic. The IWGB union, which represents TDL’s 157-strong courier workforce, balloted its 80 members, 46 of whom voted to strike, on a number of unfounded allegations relating to proposed redundancies and courier health and safety, which TDL does not recognise or accept.

“Like many organisations across the country who are taking action to ensure their survival and future sustainability, TDL is making adjustments as a result of the pandemic, and is proposing to make its 10-person pushbike and walking courier fleet redundant.

“This is due to a very significant downturn in the inner London postcodes in which they operate. Proposed redundancies are not a consideration ever made lightly, even in these exceptional circumstances. These proposals are currently subject to consultation with the 10 couriers and no decision has been made.”

It added: “It is inconceivable that TDL would deliberately expose any of its workforce, of whom its courier fleet is an important part, to undue risk at any time but especially now. All TDL’s health and safety protocols, which include access to Covid-19 testing for those with symptoms, are compliant with current regulations and UK government guidelines [and] are kept under constant review by TDL’s director of health and safety.

 “We are working closely with our couriers and will continue to do so. We are absolutely committed to ensuring there will be no disruption to our normal service.”