Over on the ‘Ask’ forum, courier Mags Dewhurst has written about how she and other couriers organised to get a payrise even though their company treated them as self-employed.
“In our industry we had stagnating wages for fifteen or twenty years. So we decided to set up a branch of a Union and campaign for more money,” she writes.
“When our branch was born… we were laughed at. We were told we would never achieve anything. But in the end, we… got three major payrises – between 20% and 30%, and virtually every cycle courier in London received a payrise as a result.”
Mags is one of the founders of the couriers branch of the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB), a union set up to represent independent workers.
Here are her top six pieces of advice.
1) Grow a backbone
“At first, half the people said ‘I don’t want to [join a union]. It’s scary!” But the other half said “you might as well do it anyway.” We didn’t know if they would fire us for joining a trade union. But our attitude was ‘we’re going to get fired anyway at some point. If you’re late, if you talk wrongly over the radio, if you swear at them on the phone, or lose a package. So we may as well just join the union”.
2) Do it as a group
“If you’re having a problem in the workplace, go around to your mates and say, “look, I’m having this problem. You can help me by being my buddy, and coming with me to talk to the employer. … If you get some friends around you and start pressuring them as a group, then you’re much more likely to succeed.”
3) Start in secret and get conditional commitment
“Go round to people in secret and say “look, noone does anything cos noone else wants to do anything. So everyone should join the union together, in secret.”
4) Don’t give your employer any opportunity to victimise you
“While you’re organising, you can’t give your company any reason to get rid of you. You have to play by the rules. Once you’ve gone public, if they try to get rid of you, you can argue it’s because you’re an activist and it makes them look bad.”
5) Get the word out there
“As soon as you have a major protest planned, that’s when you go public. Talk to the press. You have to explain what you’re doing and how the company are provoking it. Once you’ve joined the union and gone public, it gives you a kind of protection: they can’t touch you because you’re a trade unionist.”
6) The week before Christmas is a good time for a protest on pay!
“The best way to pressure people is by having hundreds of people outside their office saying “shame on you!” And then that makes them think they’ve done something wrong. The week before Christmas – that really puts on the pressure!”
Mags writes that when the IWGB had media attention with a big item on the BBC about the couriers, the union got many, many calls from people saying they were in a similar situation.
Do you work for one company which treats you as self-employed? If so you might be entitled to paid holidays, the minimum wage, and other things. You can check here. If you are, a union may be able to help you. Find out which is the right one here.
You can find out more about the IWGB here.
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Are you on a contract? Ever asked for more money? Have you ever talked about organising for a payrise or other rights? How did it go? Do you have any advice? We’d love to hear about it.