More than 100 postmasters and sub-postmasters are taking the Post Office to an employment tribunal in a bid to be recognised as ‘workers’, which would give them rights such as holiday pay and sick pay.
The case, Baker and Others v Post Office Ltd, will be heard at the London Central Employment Tribunal later this month and will consider whether the claimants, who run Post Office franchises, should be classified as “workers” rather than self-employed.
The claimants are set to argue that the Post Office has a degree of control over the work they do, which means they are dependent on the Post Office and so their status is incompatible with self-employment.
This was one of the arguments relied upon in the landmark Uber BV and Others vs Aslam and Others case. In February, the Supreme Court ruled that Uber drivers are workers, not self-employed, because Uber has significant control over the way drivers work and sets the terms and conditions of using its service, among other reasons.
The outcome in the Post Office case could have implications not just for those involved in the class-action claim, but for the thousands of sub-postmasters across the UK.
Lead claimant Mark Baker, who runs a Post Office in Wiltshire, told the Financial Times that many postmasters receive less than the national minimum wage. Dealing with a parcel, for example, would generate just 38p in pay, he said.
Recent worker status rulings
“A postmaster earns nothing unless he sells something. You could stand there all day and not sell anything and commission rates are very low,” said Baker.
A spokesperson for the Post Office said: “We take the issues to be discussed at a forthcoming employment tribunal very seriously. We want to resolve them and are working hard to find potential solutions that are relevant to today’s Post Office and can satisfy the interests of all our postmasters.
“As part of the overall group reset, we’re giving a bigger voice to postmasters, which will help us meet their needs, and two current postmasters have been appointed non-executive board directors, enabling them to directly influence strategy.”
“Post Office’s new management is focused on resetting our relationship with postmasters and addressing the past issues relating to remuneration. To date this has included increasing annual postmaster remuneration by £27m over the past year and average remuneration across our network of 11,500 branches is up 7% against last year.
“We recognised the impact Covid-19 was having on postmasters’ ability to stay open and serve their communities, which is why last year we guaranteed all independent postmasters received 100% of their remuneration in April, 90% of their remuneration in May, topped up variable remuneration in June and set up a hardship payment for those that needed immediate relief.”
In its annual report, the Post Office flagged up the outcome of the employment tribunal as a potential concern.
In April, 39 postmasters wrongly prosecuted by the Post Office over alleged fraud, as a result of issues with the Horizon IT system, had their criminal convictions overturned. A compensation claim on behalf of those who have had their names cleared has been launched.