CGT: “What the Post Office is trying to do through Stuart Delivery is to impose a new social model on the whole group”
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The pressure on Stuart Delivery to give in to its striking workers demands for a pay rise has been intensified, as a French MEP and French union, CGT, have called on Stuart’s parent company, La Poste, France’s publicly-owned postal service, to intervene in the strike in favour of the workers.
The Stuart Delivery strike in the north of England, organised by the IWGB union, has now reached day 62, initially starting in Sheffield and spreading to Sunderland, Huddersfield, Chesterfield, Leicester, Middlesbrough and Dewsbury. Two out of four of the workers demands have at least partially been met, but they are holding out for a pay rise and the right to unionise.
The IWGB claim that a change to the algorithm in November saw the base pay per delivery slashed by 24% to £3.40, a claim Stuart Delivery denies.
As the historic strike has gone on, attention has turned to Stuart’s owners. The research group CorporateWatch revealed that Stuart Delivery is a subsidiary of delivery giant Geopost/DPD, which in turn is a subsidiary of La Poste, which is 100% owned by the French state. La Poste provided €22 million in initial funding to Stuart in 2015, and then bought the company outright in 2017.
Whereas Stuart Delivery couriers are considered to be ‘independent contractors’, postal workers in La Poste are employees and largely unionised. In La Poste’s “Vigilance Plan” the company states that it is committed to “trade union representation for its employees and promotes sustained social dialogue in all its entities within the framework of employee representative bodies”, going on to claim that Stuart Delivery “puts clients in contact with independent couriers, [and] has been a pioneer in its field by developing a responsible social model”.
Stuart Delivery lost a UK Employment Tribunal over the employment status of its couriers, and the IWGB union, in partnership with law firm Leigh Day, are now bringing employment claims to court on behalf of Stuart’s couriers.
Leïla Chaibi, MEP for France Insoumise who leads The Left in the European Parliament’s work on platform workers’ rights, told the Gig Economy Project that La Poste “is clearly responsible” for the Stuart Delivery dispute “and should intervene to ensure that workers’ wages are increased.”
She added: “La Poste operates with a system of cascading subcontracting that allows the principal company to be relieved of responsibility. It is necessary for La Poste to apply a duty of vigilance to its entire distribution chain, including the channels for which it is responsible.
“This situation is caused by a deliberate will of La Poste to subcontract without moderation and thus to not take any responsibility for the working conditions of the workers in order to save a few euros on the back of each worker.”
Asked if the French Government should take action if La Poste does not intervene, Chaibi said that she thought “the State should be responsible and should guarantee decent conditions for all its workers”, but did not expect President Emmanuel Macron to do anything as under him “it is the degradation of labour rights that is guaranteed”.
The CGT union’s postal workers’ section, FAPT, also told the Gig Economy Project that they supported the strike of the Stuart Delivery couriers, and argued that La Poste has organised its sub-contracting of companies to foster a race to the bottom on labour conditions.
“The aim is to put employees in competition with each other and the lowest bidder becomes the norm,” the union said, going on to cite another example of exploitation in La Poste’s geopost/DPD subsidiary in Switzerland, “which allowed the dismissal of UNIA union members and attacked the representation of this union”.
“For the CGT FAPT, it is urgent to reverse this trend and to put an end to the impunity in which the La Poste Group operates by making them legally responsible for the impacts of their activities, as well as their subsidiaries, suppliers and subcontractors,” the union added.
The union also believes that the low pay and poor conditions which instigated the strike at Stuart Delivery is a threat to all workers at La Poste if it is not tackled.
“The Post Office has often been a laboratory company for challenging workers’ rights and guarantees,” CGT FAPT stated. “It does not hesitate to go beyond the labour laws of countries, sometimes even going beyond the ILO conventions.
“What the Post Office is trying to do through Stuart is to impose a new social model on the whole group, a model of workers uberising in all the companies of the group, the global lowering of the rights and guarantees of all workers.”
The union cited a strategy document of Geopost/DPD which said that it aims for a turnover of €20 billion in 2025, 42% above its 2019 turnover.
“To achieve this, it is pursuing and expanding its policy of putting workers in competition with each other throughout the world,” CGT FAPT added.
Leïla Chaibi also believed that the attacks on Stuart Delivery couriers’ conditions should be seen in a broader context, citing the example of Chronopost, another international delivery business which is a subsidiary of La Poste.
“Chronopost uses a temporary employment agency which itself recruits undocumented workers. Thus, La Poste allows itself to turn a blind eye and ignore what is happening in the recruitment process,” she said.
Chaibi said “uberisation” was a “trojan horse” for undermining “the labour law, to break the public service and even more widely, all wage employment!”
“It is necessary that we fight against this path taken and that we make sure that profitability is not the first concern of La Poste but rather the service rendered to the citizens in the respect of its workers,” she added.
Responding, La Poste defended the working conditions at Stuart Delivery and its own company model.
“Stuart’s pay structure in the UK was changed at the end of last year but has not had an impact on average courier income.
“La Poste group is a responsible contractor and prohibits cascade subcontracting.
“La Poste is very attentive to its duty of care and ensures that the obligations set out by law are respected. In particular, it publishes the actions taken in this respect every year in its care plan, which is included in the group’s universal registration document, as required by law.”
Henry Chango Lopez, general secretary of the IWGB, said the support of Chaibi and the CGT union “reflects the international significance of this, the longest strike in the history of the UK gig economy.”
He added: “It is matched by a huge groundswell of public support here in the UK which has helped keep workers going for more than 60 days now. People who saw for themselves how hard couriers worked for them during the pandemic have donated over £40,000 and written over a thousand letters in support of the strike.
“Now over 30 Members of Parliament have added their voices, appalled to see workers’ poverty pay cut and their basic rights denied.
“As opposition to this scandalous exploitation spreads at home and abroad, Stuart surely must realise that there is only one way for this to end. The workers cannot give up and go home to pay that is too low for them to live on. It’s time for Stuart to come to the table.”
Justin Madders, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Employment Rights and Protections, is set to meet Damien Bon, the CEO of Stuart Delivery, today to discuss the dispute.
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