Medical couriers at The Doctors Laboratory strike in pay dispute


London-based medical couriers employed by pathology services provider The Doctors Laboratory (TDL) and who are members of the trade union the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), are undertaking two days of strike action in an ongoing pay dispute.

The industrial action, which runs today (Thursday 23 May 2019) and tomorrow (Friday 24 May 2019), is taking place outside TDL’s London office between 8.00am and 1.00pm. Supporters, such as National Health Action Party founder and health campaigner Dr Louise Irvine and journalist Owen Jones, will also be in attendance.

Of IWGB’s 66 members who are employed by TDL, 52 participated in the ballot and 44 voted in favour of strike action. It is unknown how many couriers are planning to strike.

The pay dispute regards pay cuts that were issued in 2015 and 2017; IWGB states that the 2015 pay cut equated to around a 30% decrease in couriers’ pay, while in 2017, wages were reduced by approximately 15% as a result of an office move and rate changes.

IWGB, therefore, is seeking for TDL to reverse the pay cuts and implement a pay rise of at least £20 an hour, after tax and expenses. The trade union also desires TDL to deliver equal terms and conditions with the organisation’s other employees, across areas such as holidays, pensions and disciplinary procedures, introduce bonus rates for unsociable hours, overtime, weekends and bank holidays, as well as address the terms and conditions and transfer arrangements for Limb B workers and employees.

In June 2017, TDL was found to have wrongly classified its couriers as independent, self-employed contractors; this meant that affected staff were not able to access the employment rights employees’ are entitled to, such as the minimum wage and holiday pay.

Correctly identifying couriers as employees enabled IWGB to create a collective bargaining unit in order to negotiate on pay; this covers all couriers, for example walkers, pushbike couriers, motorbike riders and van drivers. This was secured in spring 2018 after a ruling by the Central Arbitration Committee.

Couriers at TDL deliver emergency blood and pathology samples to over 30 NHS hospitals situated in London and the South East. TDL couriers also service some private hospitals and clinics.

Alex Marshall, chair, couriers and logistics branch at IWGB and courier at TDL, said: “While TDL investors and managers get fat off of NHS contracts, the couriers that risk their lives every day to deliver emergency blood and pathology samples are being left to suffer under a regime of pay cuts and neglect.

“We are proud of the work we do, but that doesn’t mean we will allow bully managers to continue to take us for a ride. We deserve respect and decent pay.”

A spokesperson at TDL Collect, added: “It’s exceptionally disappointing that a minority of our couriers, already some of the best paid in London and benefiting from similar terms and conditions to those of TDL employees, having been offered employment, have chosen to strike.

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“While our couriers provide an important service, their intention to ‘shut down’ a vital medical service in pursuit of increasingly unreasonable demands is wholly irresponsible. In 2018, the average TDL courier earned significantly more than a fully-trained, senior paramedic and their union is now seeking annual earnings on a par with an experienced junior doctor.

“Their intention is to disrupt the transportation of medical samples from GP surgeries, clinics and hospitals to our laboratories. Our customers and their patients should be reassured that we have contingency plans in place and are doing all we can to ensure our service operates normally during this action. Many of our couriers are appalled at the thought of a strike and will work as usual, while existing external partners are in place should they be required.”