Emergency blood deliveries to large hospitals, including London’s Great Ormond Street and Guys, as well as Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge, could be hit when couriers go on strike next week over pay and conditions.
About 100 cyclists, motorcyclists and van drivers who work for the Doctors Laboratory (TDL), a company that provides pathology services to the NHS, are planning to go on strike for two days, after pay cuts and contract changes despite winning a legal case intended to improve their rights.
TDL provides blood delivery courier services to more than 50 NHS and private hospitals in London and the south-east.
In 2017, TDL conceded that the couriers should be classed as workers, a formal employment classification with limited rights including holiday pay and the national minimum wage. The gig economy union the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) is now pursuing about £1m in holiday back pay for 50 TDL workers.
In an out of court settlement last year the company went on to acknowledge that some of those couriers were employees, the most protected status, which comes with full rights including sick leave, maternity pay and the ability to challenge unfair dismissal.
But the IWGB said TDL was trying to introduce employee contracts which reduced pay and asked workers to pay for their own equipment. It said the company has also tried to hire new couriers on these contracts, while reducing work for those involved with the union.
In contrast, research by Corporate Watch found that TDL’s highest paid director had doubled his pay since 2013 to £1.6m while the company’s Australian owner, Sonic Healthcare, had received £60m from the business over the last five years.
Alex Marshall, a TDL courier and IWGB member, said: “While TDL investors and managers get fat off 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.”
TDL said that every courier was paid above the voluntary London living wage and all received holiday pay and pensions contributions after being recognised as workers.
Laurence Harvey, TDL’s logistics director, said: “It’s exceptionally disappointing that a minority of our couriers, already some of the best paid in London … have elected to strike.
“While our couriers provide a vital service, their demands for annual take home pay higher than the average junior doctor’s and nearly twice that of a ward sister, cannot be deemed reasonable.
“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 TDL has robust plans in place to mitigate any impact on our service.”