For Christmas this year, I’m donating a part of my salary to an amazing group of key workers in my city of Nottingham who need our support now more than ever. When the pandemic hit, the whole nation saw delivery workers for what they have always been: essential. During the first lockdown, they were hailed as heroes and applauded every Thursday. Now the companies exploiting them want to go back to business as usual – but couriers in the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) are taking a stand. They’ve had all our backs throughout this crisis, and now we need to show them we’ve got their backs, too.
I first got involved with the IWGB couriers in Nottingham last year when they teamed up with eating outlets to help feed rough sleepers. I was really struck by the fact that these precarious workers, themselves forced to campaign over poverty pay and basic rights, took it upon themselves to show meaningful solidarity with others in need. With one eye on the future, they also linked up with youth climate strikers to lead our city’s first ever workers’ climate strike. This is exactly the kind of visionary grassroots leadership that inspires me and can win real change.
The couriers we clapped for in lockdown have worked for years without many of the basic rights that others take for granted. Often working for less than the minimum wage, they don’t have secure contracts, sick pay or the right to annual leave. Workers can be terminated based on nothing more than one malicious customer complaint and can expect no due process whatsoever: no right to a hearing, no trade union representation and no chance of appeal.
None of this changed when they were named key workers, even though couriers were called on to work through lockdown at risk to themselves. Companies like Deliveroo claim their workers don’t need basic rights because they’re mostly students doing casual work for extra cash who want flexibility. This creates a false trade off between flexibility and the basic rights everyone should have. Most of the couriers I’ve met are supporting families and rely on their delivery work to pay their bills and feed their kids.
Despite the so-called evictions ban, tens of thousands of people have been made homeless during the pandemic, many of them young precarious workers getting little to no financial help from the government. Prevented by poverty pay from building up their own savings, many are one pay cheque away from losing their home, which also poses serious public health implications.
Lack of sick pay has already forced countless workers to choose between working through symptoms and risking destitution for themselves and their families. For self-isolation to work, people must be able to afford to stay home, so this kind of exploitation puts everyone at risk. That’s why I’m proud to be one of over 50 MPs calling out Deliveroo for putting thousands of people at risk and undermining efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19 by ignoring the IWGB’s demands. Over 65 MPs have also demanded a fair terminations process and that’s something we need to see from all ‘gig economy’ companies.
The IWGB’s #ClappedAndScrapped campaign, which has brought our Nottingham riders together with couriers nationwide, challenges not just unfair terminations but the whole ‘gig economy’ culture that ignores, undervalues and dismisses our key workers, all of whom have played such a vital role during this crisis.
That includes couriers: whether they deliver Covid-19 samples, medicine, groceries or yes, even takeout to people like my mum. She’s on the ‘extremely vulnerable’ list but didn’t want to take food parcels from those in need during lockdown. So, when the lentils at home ran out and the supermarkets couldn’t deliver, it was the Deliveroo and UberEats riders that kept her going. There are thousands – perhaps millions – of stories like that. Rain or shine, they worked every day to get us through this difficult time.
My Christmas donation to the IWGB couriers isn’t an act of charity, it’s an act of solidarity. I want to use my privilege to support these key workers in their fight for the basic rights and respect that they deserve. I call on everyone to do the same this Christmas, in whatever way you’re able to. Support the IWGB’s #ClappedAndScrapped campaign, email your MP, make some noise on social media and donate what you can.
The so-called ‘gig economy’ creates a loophole for big corporations to start dodging their most basic moral obligations. Minimum wage, annual leave, sick pay – these rights were hard won, and meant to be universal. Those who already enjoyed the fewest rights, such as BAME and migrant workers, are hardest hit, but this erosion of essential rights that were meant to be for everyone threatens everyone.
As the pandemic is slowly coming to an end, it’s time to ask ourselves what kind of society we want to return to. I want to build a society where workers are valued, respected and treated fairly. The best way of achieving that is by supporting their unions and campaigns, and may this be our resolution for 2021.