Britain’s largest union, Unite announced today (Thursday 8 June) that it was preparing legal action against an employment agency supplying drivers for Co-op supermarkets over the use of ‘bogus self-employment’ practices which are resulting in pay differences of nearly £3 an hour.
The move to prepare employment tribunal cases by Unite’s strategic case unit follows a refusal by the Co-op to end the exploitation of agency drivers on Co-op contracts.
Agency Drivers Network (ADR) is the Co-op’s preferred agency and provides drivers across the country to the ethical retailer either directly or where it has outsourced logistics to its third party contractors, such as Wincanton and XPO.
Unite claims that ADR demands drivers set up their own limited company and refers workers to an accountant so they can operate under a ‘bogus self-employed’ model to avoid agency workers regulations and basic rights including holiday pay, statutory sick pay and minimum statutory pension payments.
Lawyers from Unite’s strategic case unit recently met with agency drivers from Co-op’s Lea Green depot in Merseyside. They found that drivers operating under the ‘bogus self-employed’ model were receiving nearly £3 an hour less than directly employed drivers in addition to no holiday or sick pay, pension or other basic worker rights.
Unite represents Co-op drivers and has a national recognition agreement with the ethical retailer.
Commenting Unite assistant general secretary for legal services Howard Beckett said: “All the advice we’ve received points to ‘bogus self-employment’ practices being used to drive down wages and deny workers of their basic rights.
“The ‘limited company’ sham being adopted on the Co-op contract at Lea Green does not reflect the reality of the working or contractual relationship for agency drivers who are earning up to £3 an hour less than their directly employed colleagues.
“This ‘bogus self-employment’ model is a cruel ruse by penny pinching bosses and further evidence of how exploitative working practices are mutating under the guise of the so called gig economy.
“We are currently advising members on potential claims for holiday pay, unlawful deductions from wages and breaches of the agency worker regulations. We expect to lodge employment tribunal claims in the coming weeks.
“Other companies who think they can dodge workers’ rights with ‘bogus self-employment’ should beware. This is precisely the type of case which Unite’s strategic case unit was set up to deal with.”
Unite national officer Adrian Jones added: “The refusal by the Co-op to stamp out the ‘bogus self-employment’ practices of its preferred employment agency run contrary to its ethical commitment to ensure decent working conditions are upheld in its supply chain.
“Unite has made repeated attempts to resolve the issue with Co-op and its employment agency. Yet it appears that cost cutting trumps the ethical values that the Co-op professes to uphold, leaving us with little option but to use the full force of the law to defend our members’ rights.
“I would encourage any members who think they are affected by ‘bogus self-employment’ at Co-op and elsewhere in the logistics sector to contact Unite for further advice.”
For further information please contact Unite head of media and campaigns Alex Flynn on 020 3371 2066 or 07967 665869.
Notes to editors
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.
Unite Legal Services acts for over 20,000 members a year and recovered over £209 million in damages in 2016. Unite Legal Services provides support to members in respect of all types of employment tribunal claims.
Unite Legal Services has taken the most high profile of employment cases over the last 12 months, and secure legal victories in significant claims for the benefit of members.
Unite Legal Services recently won the holiday pay case allowing workers to receive their normal pay in their times of rest, this win alone was worth tens of millions in compensation for Unite members.
Unite Legal Services guarantee that members always receive 100 per cent of their damages.