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Bicycle courier wins fight for employment rights at tribunal

A bike courier who took her bosses to court has won employment rights such as holiday pay and the minimum wage in what has been described as a "test case".

Margaret Dewhurst took CitySprint to court over claims they were treating her as an "independent contractor" and not a "worker", despite travelling up to 50 miles a day, four days a week for the company.

Judge Joanna Wade called parts of Ms Dewhurst's contract "contorted and self-destructive" at the Central London Employment Tribunal, ruling in favour of the 29-year-old who said she felt "fear" that turning down jobs would lead to her being offered less work.

Judge Wade ruled that Ms Dewhurst should have been classed as a worker of CitySprint, a same-day delivery company, whilst she was a courier for them, and not as a self employed cyclist providing services.

As a bike courier, Ms Dewhurst made deliveries to a range of hospitals in London, routinely delivering clinical notes, blood and semen samples, and prescriptions including restricted drugs.

Ms Dewhurst, from South London, told the Employment Tribunal in November that she was given instructions about delivery jobs from a controller, who told her where to pick something up and where to deliver it to.

She said while it was possible for her to refuse to carry out a job, it is "widely understood" that this is "not a good idea".

She said in her witness statement the controllers would find that "disruptive", adding: "Ultimately this would impact on the amount of work I am allocated."

In the written decision, Judge Wade said CitySprint couriers "have little autonomy to determine the manner in which their services are performed", concluding Ms Dewhurst was a worker, and that the company had unlawfully failed to pay her for two days of holiday she had taken.

Paul Jennings, partner at law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite, said: "Until now couriers have occupied a vulnerable position. They carry out physically demanding work, in dangerous conditions, but cannot take paid leave.

"In the wake of this judgement, we expect that thousands of couriers across the capital will look to assert their rights and seek back pay."

The law firm, which represented Ms Dewhurst, described the proceedings as a "test case" and the first in "a series of co-ordinated legal actions against the UK's major courier companies".

The case came just months after online taxi firm Uber lost a legal battle in which two drivers successfully argued that they were employees rather than self-employed independent operators.

A CitySprint spokesman said: "We are disappointed with today's ruling. It is important to remember that this applies to a single individual and was not a test case.

"Because of the complexity of the judgment we will be reviewing it in detail before making any further comment."

The spokesman said the company enjoys a "good relationship" with their fleet, with evidence showing "the vast majority of our couriers enjoy the freedom and flexibility of their current role".

He added: "This case has demonstrated that there is still widespread confusion regarding this area of law, which is why we are calling on the Government to provide better support and help for businesses across the UK who could be similarly affected."

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