In the middle of the pandemic, delivery workers who transport important medical samples – including COVID-19 – are under attack from employers. But the couriers are fighting back.
Couriers at The Doctors Laboratory (TDL) are taking on the bosses…and winning!
Dozens of the lowest paid couriers at TDL face redundancy in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. These cyclists and walkers are the couriers who had been tasked with handling specimens of the virus itself. Yet despite their role in helping fight this pandemic, they are now being repaid by the bosses by being given the boot!
This isn’t a response to financial difficulties that the company faces. Rather it is a blatant attack on trade unionists. Sonic Healthcare, the parent company of The Doctors Laboratory boasted a turnover of over $550m in the last financial year. They stand to profit massively this financial year on the back of COVID-19.
This all started on 21 April when, in response to unsafe working conditions that the company was happy to expose them to, TDL workers addressed a letter was sent to the company CEO, David Byrne, with basic demands:
- For full sick pay for couriers who had to self isolate due to illness, if they are over 60 or if they are vulnerable individuals with diabetes or acute asthma.
- Testing in order to prevent the spread of the virus via asymptomatic individuals and to safeguard employees and their families.
This first reasonable request met with a simple, “No”. The second with the answer: “There is little to no evidence for it being worthwhile.” A call for social distancing measures to be brought in was only finally met two and a half months into the crisis. Meanwhile, the demand for PPE was met with a lacklustre and slow response.
The bosses at TDL then decided to add injury to insult following their miserable response to these simple demands. Alex Marshall, who is the chairman of the Courier & Logistics Branch of the IWGB union, and the other couriers at TDL were told they would be made redundant. The sackings were confirmed by the company as of 9 June with immediate effect.
Alex has quite clearly been targeted due to his involvement in organising workers, and the rest for their trade union membership. The reason for the dismissals is clear: with the union having scored a series of victories since 2016, the bosses have had enough.
Unphased by the phony threats by the company to bring legal action against both the workers and the union, the IWGB launched a multi-layered campaign in response to these outrageous attacks:
- They engaged the wider public with a letter writing campaign targeting management at TDL: 500 emails bombarded their inboxes.
- After initial success they moved on to Sonic Healthcare, the parent company, and their board members inboxes were likewise flooded with emails.
- They targeted investors: hundreds of letters were sent to thousands of shareholders.
- The campaign became global as trade unions in Australia, where the parent company is based, were contacted and mobilised in solidarity.
- They engaged the press, with the story being reported on by the Washington Post and Al Jazeera both reporting it.
- UK MPs were approached to speak out and write to Sonic Healthcare in outrage: 20 MPs sent letters.
- A legal case was launched around trade union detriment, due to the targeting of organisers and whistleblowers.
Now a 67-page Sonic Healthcare dossier has been drawn up in which the massive discrepancy between what Sonic says and what Sonic does has been extensively detailed. The ‘Sonic Dossier: Pathological Duplicity in the Pursuit of Profit’, has been sent to all 650 MPs in the UK and the Cabinet in Australia.
Most important of all, the workers successfully balloted for strike action. In a desperate bid to stop the strike, the bosses sent out a threatening email to couriers to intimidate them into stopping the strike, accusing workers of criminal offences such as breaching the peace, trespassing and using TDL’s logo. This clearly shows the bosses are rattled.
The workers weren’t to be cowed, however. The #SonicStrike took place yesterday, on Wednesday 10 June, with no less than 100 people joining the online picket. This was addressed by John McDonnell MP, Owen Jones and Ian Byrne MP.
Incredible picket! What we lacked in a physical picket we made up ten fold with the virtual picket! Humbled by the support and grateful for all you incredible people. WE GO AGAIN! #HealthNotWealth #DefendTDL10 https://t.co/YIhYejsTB1
— alex marshall #DefendTDL10 (@alexjkmarshall) June 10, 2020
In a marvellous display of solidarity, trade unionists in Australia also set up solidarity pickets outside Sonic Healthcare’s main headquarters.
Thank you so much to our siblings in Sydney Australian (including @TWUAus, @unionsnsw) who kindly brought the noise to #SonicWealthcare on our behalf ‼️‼️
Your solidarity is the perfect tonic for these difficult times ??
So much love back at you ?❤️? https://t.co/OiscXEaXAk
— IWGB Couriers & Logistics Branch (@IWGB_CLB) June 11, 2020
There’s every reason for optimism as the #TDL10 campaign gains a head of steam.
Victory to the strike!
Defend the TDL10!