‘We’ve lost the battle, but not the war,’ says union after a driver settles his dispute with NZ Post out of court

Asneil Kumar was the last man standing taking on NZ Post for employee rights after more than a dozen courier drivers dropped their support behind the lawsuit. 

But just days before his case seeking better work rights for 500 courier drivers was to be heard at the Employment Court, NZ Post settled the matter.

A NZ Post spokeswoman said Kumar was no longer contracted to NZ Post.

“The proceedings have been resolved. Mr Kumar is no longer contracted to NZ Post. We are not able to comment further.”

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Kumar was contacted by Newsroom but said he wasn’t able to disclose any information about the settlement.

E tū national industry organiser Joe Gallagher said the outcome was “incredibly disappointing”.

“Let me put it this way, they made it incredibly hard for him to turn it down,” Gallagher said. “But this is what I’ve been saying all along, when you’re dealing with a corporation with deep pockets they will fight vigorously to keep their model.”

NZ Post drivers have been working as essential service workers under the Alert Level 4 lockdown. 

On Friday morning a worker at NZ Post’s Highbrook site with 300 workers in Auckland also tested positive for Covid-19.

And the publicly-owned company reported a $6 million profit last year fuelled by online shopping amid lockdowns, a huge turnaround from its $121m loss the previous year.

Asneil Kumar was the last man standing after more than a dozen courier drivers dropped their support behind a lawsuit taking on NZ Post over the past three months. But he too has settled. Photo: Supplied

Last year was the busiest year in Kumar’s 13-year career working as a courier driver, he said. 

At one of the peak times last year, coming out of Covid lockdown, Kumar was delivering on average 330 parcels a day. Now it’s about 230 to 250 parcels.

Kumar and the union were seeking a decision on whether courier drivers are employees, and for the right to have collective bargaining.

Employees have entitlements such as sick leave, minimum wages, holiday pay and can take personal grievances against their employers. Contractors don’t have these rights and are considered self-employed.

The case initially had about 15 courier drivers, but after facing a number of delays and adjournments due to NZ Post’s lawyers requesting files on every courier driver involved in the case, the union decided to represent Kumar as a representative case.

While Gallagher said he felt “angry” about the time and effort spent on the case, he respected Kumar’s decision.

“It’s a matter of regrouping and finding another brave courier. We want to take this forward because this is the first time we’ve come so close with an existing worker.”

“They’ve won the battle but the war’s not over. I’ve been fighting it for 10 years and I’m not about to give up today.”

He says there has been an outpour of support from the courier drivers around the country.

“They’ve won the battle but the war’s not over. I’ve been fighting it for 10 years and I’m not about to give up today.”
– Joe Gallagher, E tū

Last year a similar case was heard at the Employment Court – Leota vs Parcel Express Limited. The court found Mika Leota, a courier driver, was an employee of Parcel Express despite working under an independent contractor agreement because of the high level of control they had over him.

Chief Judge Christina Inglis says in her judgment that despite being described as “his own boss”, Leota did not “exercise any real degree of autonomy over his work with Parcel Express”.

Earlier, Leota’s lawyer Garry Pollack who was also working on Kumar’s case said he had experienced “a lot of pushback” from large courier companies “who are doing everything they can to preserve the courier model”. 

Leota said he had been working “frantically” in the weeks ahead of Kumar’s case to get things in order.

“There are huge sums involved. All couriers operate on the same contract model as Leota.”

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