Gig Economy Project – “This strike is about survival”: UK Stuart Delivery couriers revolt reaches 100th day

Stuart Delivery couriers in eight towns and cities in the north of England remain on strike after their pay was slashed in December

Picture from @SYorksCouriers

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This series of articles concerning the Gig Economy in Europe is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Andrew Wainwright Reform Trust.

THE historic strike of Stuart Delivery couriers across the north of England has reached its 100th day but appears no closer to being resolved, after talks between the striking workers and Stuart Delivery management this week did not lead to a resolution.

On Wednesday [30 March], strike leader Parirs Dixon, chair of the Sheffield Couriers’ Branch of the IWGB union, sat down for the first time with a representative of Stuart Delivery, the UK General Manager Brendan Hamill. In December, the company introduced a new “linear pay” algorithmic system for calculating pay, which the IWGB claim slashed the base pay per delivery by 24% to £3.40 an hour. 

Stuart Delivery, which is a sub-contractor for Just Eat, had previously denied that the linear pay system has cut pay, even stating on social media that the new system was “fairer”. However, following the meeting between Dixon and Hamill, the strike leader claimed that Hamill told him that the courier fee was previously too high, thus in effect accepting that the new system has lowered pay.

Dixon also complained about Hamill’s attitude, stating that he “was not there to negotiate in good faith” and “spoke down” to him during what was a three hour long meeting, in what Dixon believed was an attempt to break his “spirits to stop the strike”.

“He will be disappointed to know that workers are incensed about the contempt he showed me and other cities are starting to take action after hearing about the meeting,” Dixon added. “This has only strengthened our resolve and we have no intention of stopping until we get the pay rise we are owed.”

The strike began in Sheffield in early December before spreading to other cities and towns. There are currently eight towns and cities where the industrial action is ongoing: Sheffield, Middlesbrough, Chesterfield, Morley, Birstall, Heckmondwike, Ashford, and Worcester. 

The Stuart Delivery strike is by far the longest in the history of the UK gig economy. One of the striking couriers, Khalil Lange, explained to the Gig Economy Project in January that they have been able to sustain the strike for so long because they target specific high-profile restaurants and bakeries which Stuart deliver from at peak time, but the couriers can still deliver in hours when they are not picketing so that they still have some money coming in. This, combined with a solidarity strike fund which has now raised over £30k, has allowed the strike to keep going for 100 days and counting.

GEP also spoke to another striking Stuart Delivery courier, Bryn Atkinson Woodcock, in March about the impact of rising fuel costs on the workers. Stuart Delivery couriers are self-employed so they have to pay the additional cost of fuel for their motorcycle or car themselves, as well as the increased price of essentials like food and rent as inflation reaches it’s highest level in over 40 years. Woodcock said some couriers are working more than 10 hours a day – above the safe driving limit – just to get by.

“It’s dangerous because of the hours people are working and because they aren’t changing their tyres when they need to because they can’t afford it,” he said.

“People have families and they’re struggling. I’ve seen drivers in tears or breaking down. It’s heartbreaking because they don’t see their kids and they’ve come to a breaking point.”

The IWGB alongside Leigh Day Solicitors is taking a case against Stuart to court on behalf of 150 couriers over misclassification of worker status.

In recent weeks the strike has occupied the HQ of bakery firm Greggs, one of Stuart’s clients, demanding that they pressure the company to take action. Sheffield council leader Terry Fox has also called on Greggs to take action in respect to Stuart. 

The strike has already seen some of its demands met, including paid waiting time at £10 an hour, but on the crucial issue of the pay cut Stuart has so far not budged.

Alex Marshall, President of the IWGB union and former delivery courier, said they will “continue to fight” for a “pay rise”.

“After 100 days of action from workers across the UK, we are seeing that even Stuart Delivery’s top management can’t keep up the ridiculous lie that their pay cuts are “fairer”,” Marshall said. 

“These couriers worked hard through the pandemic, but when the clapping stopped, the couriers saw their bosses take the first opportunity to slash their pay. And now, at a time when the cost of living is soaring, this strike is about survival. 

“That’s why we’re seeing the strike continue to spread across the country and actions escalate. We will continue to fight until we get the pay rise the workers not only deserve, but desperately need.”

Stuart Delivery is ultimately owned by La Poste, the French postal service which is 100% state owned. A French union, CGT, has called on La Poste and the French Government to intervene on behalf of the striking workers.

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