Couriers take on delivery company Stuart to fight for fairer working conditions

Couriers risking all on the frontline are taking on Stuart Delivery to appeal for basic workers' rights.

More than 150 couriers have joined the fight to be treated more fairly by the delivery company Stuart.

The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has teamed up with law firm Leigh Day to contend that couriers supplying services for Stuart should be classed as workers rather than “independent riders”, which the delivery company describes them as.

Sidestepping basic workers’ rights

Under the current classification of “independent riders”, Stuart Delivery – which provides services for big food chain brands such as Pizza Hut, Ocado and Nespresso – avoids providing its couriers with basic workers’ rights, including the national minimal wage and holiday pay.

The fresh battle to entitle those working in the gig economy with fair pay and employment rights follows the landmark Uber ruling. On February 19, 2021, the UK’s Supreme Court ruled Uber drivers must be treated as workers rather than self-employed. Following the long-running legal battle, Uber said it had made changes to its business model.

It was hoped that the ruling would have wider consequences for the gig economy. The purpose of the legislation was described by Lord Leggatt as to ensure individuals are not denied workers’ rights just because they are called ‘partners’ or ‘contractors.’

Couriers risking all on the frontline

However, despite the ruling, delivery companies are still taking on workers on an “independent” contract, enabling them to avoid committing to basic employment benefits, such as holiday pay and paying the national minimum wage – as testified by the current battle between the IWGB and Stuart.

With the IWGB on-board, a total of 154 couriers have joined the campaign to entitle gig workers to the rights they deserve.

Anthony Doherty, a courier for Stuart, describes how, throughout the pandemic, he has been putting himself on the frontline to provide a vital service for the public.

“I put my health on the line, and I did so while being denied the minimum wage and holiday pay.

“This case is not about justice for me, it’s about justice for hundreds of key workers who are being denied what is legally theirs,” said Doherty.

Forced into strike action

Alex Marshall, IWGB President, referred to the unfair conditions couriers working for Stuart are being forced to work under.

“Stuart Delivery have been knowingly denying thousands of key workers the pay and rights they legally deserve throughout the pandemic.

“We have not only seen these couriers provide a vital service to the public as they stay at home and keep safe, but we have also seen these couriers forced to take strike action in Sheffield and Plymouth over declining pay and conditions.

“These couriers have put their lives on the line to provide this service and yet they are punished by Stuart Delivery with the continued denial of what is legally theirs.

“The result of this is key workers not being able to afford to pay their bills, to feed their families and in some cases being able to self-isolate,” Marshall continued.

In the wake of the Uber ruling, calls have been made for the government to enforce workers’ rights. However, as we are seeing with the current battle between Stuart Delivery and couriers, workplace protections are being left to the whim of employers, with dreadful outcomes, and leaving enforcement to be triggered by unions, law firms and individual workers, with the outcomes being left to the discretion of tribunals and courts.

A spokesperson for Leigh Day, the law firm involved in the dispute with Stuart, told LFF:

“Leigh Day believes that the recent Uber Supreme Court judgment means it’s likely that future appeals by Stuart will fail given the overlap between the legal issues in the two cases. An Employment Tribunal in 2018 found in favour of a Stuart courier who claimed that he should be classed as a worker and this decision was upheld by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in December 2019, so we think this claim is a strong and winnable one.

“In terms of treatment of couriers, Leigh Day feels that, because of the standards couriers have to meet and the way they fit into Stuart’s business, they should instead be classed as workers and be entitled to these rights.”

LFF reached out to Stuart Delivery on the issue which failed to provide comment.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a freelance journalist and columnist for Left Foot Forward.

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