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CitySprint delivers 'slap in the face' to British legal system with cycle courier contract, says trade union

Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain (IWGB) said the company had changed the wording of its contracts but not the substance of the work

Ben Chapman
Wednesday 15 November 2017 16:02 GMT
Pedal power: a bike courier in London
Pedal power: a bike courier in London (Alamy)

Courier firm CitySprint has been accused of delivering a “slap in the face” to the British legal system with a new contract that appears to circumvent a ruling on workers’ rights.

The Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain (IWGB) said the company had changed the wording of its contracts but not the substance of the work.

CitySprint has dropped its appeal against an employment tribunal ruling from earlier this year granting cycle courier Maggie Dewhurst worker rights.

​CitySprint has around 3,500 self-employed couriers in the UK, but the central London tribunal ruled in January that it had wrongly classified Ms Dewhurst as self-employed, when she was in fact a worker. She therefore should have been paid holiday and guaranteed the minimum wage.

The company will pay around £200 in holiday back pay from last year, but will not grant Ms Dewhurt's rights as a worker, including paying for any subsequent holiday pay.

Ms Dewhurst said: “As a result of my tribunal claim CitySprint has forced everyone, at the penalty of losing our jobs, to sign new documents they say are contracts. But we work in exactly the same way as before, nothing has changed. It’s a shame CitySprint would rather engage in legal shenanigans than pay me and my colleagues our holidays.”

​IWGB general secretary Dr Jason Moyer-Lee said: “CitySprint's latest move to openly flout the law is outrageous. If there ever was a case study for how the absence of government enforcement begets total impunity, this is it.

"CitySprint's decision is a slap in the face, not just to its couriers, but also to the British legal system. The IWGB will hit back and we will hit back hard.

“The company clearly saw how our lawyers defeated Uber at the Employment Appeal Tribunal and hatched this desperate attempt to avoid the same fate.”

The news comes just a day after Deliveroo won the right not to pay its couriers the minimum wage or holiday pay. The Central Arbitration Committee said the food delivery company’s riders were self-employed because they had the right to allow a substitute to do their work for them.

The case, which was also brought by the IWGB, had been seen as a test case for workers rights in the UK’s gig economy.

The CAC ruling said: “The central and insuperable difficulty for the union is that we find that the substitution right to be genuine, in the sense that Deliveroo have decided in the new contract that riders have a right to substitute themselves both before and after they have accepted a particular job; and we have also heard evidence, that we accepted, of it being operated in practice.”

Deliveroo says it is a “platform” rather than a traditional employer, which means that its 15,000 couriers can “be their own boss”.

Last week, Uber lost its appeal against a landmark ruling ordering it to treat its drivers as workers, pay them minimum wage and afford them rights including sickness and holiday pay.

The company vowed to launch another appeal in the case, which could affect 40,000 drivers in London.

A spokesperson for City Sprint said: "“We have decided not to continue with this individual appeal and we await the Government’s response to the Taylor Review, which we hope will bring much needed clarity and guidance in this important area for both organisations and individuals.

“In the interim, we have updated our courier tender documents to simplify the language in these, further clarifying the rights and flexibilities available to self-employed couriers who provide their services to us. We enjoy a great relationship with couriers, who continue to enjoy the freedom and flexibility of their current role.”

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