Another group of workers whose efforts are assisting in the battle against the pandemic are the medical couriers charged with the vital task of transporting Covid-19 samples from hospital wards to pathology labs – at some personal risk. The couriers work for TDL (The Doctors’ Laboratory), a subsidiary of an Australian company called Sonic Healthcare.
When the couriers asked that TDL should observe some basic health and safety guidelines to safeguard their welfare, the company flatly refused. Worse, the company made ten of the couriers redundant – a group that just ‘happened’ to include all those who had been trying to get something done about health and safety or had their cards marked as whistle-blowers.
The couriers’ demands are hardly excessive, including such basic requirements as: giving full pay to workers who need to self-isolate because they have pre-existing medical conditions that put them at particular risk if they contract Covid-19; regularly testing medical couriers for Covid-19; providing proper PPE to medical couriers; and implementing social distancing where possible within the company’s loading bay.
When it became clear that, far from agreeing to consider the workers’ demands, TDL just tried to make its critics redundant, the couriers voted to strike on Wednesday 10 June. Solidarity messages were received from activists in other countries, and the IWGB has filed a trade union victimisation and whistleblower victimisation claim.
It has been revealed that senior management frequently referred to union members as ‘troublemakers’ and recruited a ‘head of logistics’ specifically to undermine union activity at TDL. Members are also now reporting harassment by managers in relation to the strike, which was the first by key workers since the pandemic began.
The couriers’ union, the IWGB (Independent Workers of Great Britain) noted: “TDL has more than enough money to cover the costs of extensive safety measures if it wanted to. The company’s profits have steadily increased from £6m in 2008 to over £28m last year, yet couriers who put their health on the line have barely seen a fraction of this money.
“Instead, the company has paid a total of £75m in dividends to Sonic Healthcare between 2014 and 2018.” (Covid-19 couriers vote to strike following victimisation by NHS contractor TDL, IWGB, 28 May 2020)