Medical couriers transporting Covid-19 samples on behalf of NHS pathology contractor The Doctors Laboratory (TDL) have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action, in response to the company’s decision to make redundancies during the pandemic, and its failure to address health and safety concerns.
The couriers’ union, The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), has also filed a trade union victimisation and whistleblower victimisation claim against the company at the employment tribunal on behalf of eight of its members, which are being made redundant on bogus grounds. The vast majority of the ten workers being targeted for redundancy have been active in demanding better and safer working conditions.
One of them, Alex Marshall, is a key organiser who blew the whistle on the company’s unsafe practices and has been featured on a number of media, including the BBC’s Panorama, Sky News, Al Jazeera and the Guardian.
The decision by TDL, a subsidiary of Australian multinational Sonic Healthcare, to use the cover of the pandemic to target active trade unionists and whistleblowers is a slap in the face to workers that have put themselves at personal risk to ensure the safety of others. TDL couriers have for the last two months been going into hospitals with a high concentration of Covid-19 patients to pick up Covid-19 samples and deliver them safely to pathology labs.
Despite repeated demands, the company has failed to:
- Give full pay to workers that need to self-isolate because they are over-60 or have pre-existing medical conditions that put them at particular risk if they contract Covid-19
Regularly test medical couriers for Covid-19
Reinstate Joe Williams, a courier with diabetes and other serious medical conditions, who was unfairly dismissed during the pandemic
Provide proper PPE to medical couriers
Implement social distancing where possible within the company’s loading bay
TDL cycle courier and IWGB couriers and logistics branch chair Alex Marshall said: “I’m incredibly proud of the work we have done during this pandemic. TDL’s cycle couriers are amongst the best in the industry, have an impeccable attendance record and in times of tremendous stress have provided a model service to the community. Instead of rewarding us, management has decided to take away our only means to feed our families in the middle of a pandemic. But the resounding vote in favour of strike action shows that despite management’s attempts to break us, we are more united than ever.”
TDL has more than enough money to cover the costs of extensive safety measures if it wanted to. The company’s profits have steadily increased from £6m in 2008 to over £28m last year, yet couriers that put their health on the line have barely seen a fraction of this money.
Instead, the company has paid a total of £75m in dividends to Sonic Healthcare between 2014 and 2018.
As part of its campaign, the IWGB is also sending a detailed 60-page dossier raising concerns about TDL’s practices to 200 Sonic Healthcare investors.
The IWGB represents the majority of the 152 medical couriers working for TDL in London and the South East.