Covid-19 Sample Couriers ‘Denied Face Masks’ Take Legal Action

By Aaron Walawalkar, News and Digital Editor 26 Mar 2020
Credit: Polina / Unsplash

Couriers transporting Covid-19 samples across London are taking legal action against their employer over claims they are being denied hand sanitiser and face masks.

Medical couriers working for the Doctor’s Laboratory fear they are at high risk of coronavirus transmission as they transport samples and tests for the virus between hospitals across London daily.

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) is taking legal action against the medical firm, accusing it of breaching “implied terms” of the couriers’ contracts including “terms on duty of care and EU health and safety directives”.

The Doctor’s Laboratory has said it is “inconceivable” it would deliberately expose its couriers to undue risk.

It added that its “protocols are compliant with current regulations” and that couriers are provided protective gloves and, subject to availability, hand sanitiser.

The testing lab also denied couriers’ claims that Covid-19 samples are not being packaged in accordance with the government’s minimum safety guidelines.

‘We have to take action’

Credit: Unsplash

Alex Marshall, one of the lab’s pushbike couriers, spoke of how his colleagues are on the “frontlines” of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the capital.

“We are going into London hospitals at the epicentre of the pandemic, collecting samples, and then travelling to other parts of the country with fewer cases and into places with vulnerable people like cancer wards and fertility clinics,” he said.

“In this context, our employer’s refusal to provide basic protective equipment, regular testing or enough sick pay to self-isolate is putting lives at risk, including those of NHS staff and vulnerable patients.

“It seems they are more interested in profits than saving lives. We have to take action.”

The Doctor’s Laboratory has said it will pay the statutory sick pay (SSP), £94.25-a-week for up to 28 weeks, to all couriers who are fall ill or who have to self-isolate.

Emer Nestor, the testing lab’s director of governance, said: “It is inconceivable that we would deliberately expose any of our workforce, of whom our couriers are an important part, to undue risk at any time but especially in these exceptional circumstances.

“All our protocols are compliant with current regulations, are kept under constant review and should they change, our protocols will change with them.”

Nestor said that the lab’s packaging has been approved by a leading UK dangerous goods safety advisor and by Public Health England.

Couriers do not handle samples directly but have been provided with hand sanitiser (subject to availability) and protective gloves, she added.

Nestor said: “In line with Public Health guidelines, masks are not required for the activities they carry out. Our couriers are trained on how to identify and deal with any issues arising from expected good practice around packaging of samples and they are not obliged to collect a sample they believe to have been incorrectly packaged.”

“All our couriers have been offered a full employment contract, which includes sick pay rights.”

  • IWGB is raising money to cover its legal costs. You can donate via this crowdjustice page.