Postmasters do not have worker status


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The employment tribunal has found that a group of postmasters were not workers for the purposes of the definition under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) in Baker and others v Post Office Ltd.

The employment tribunal has found that a group of postmasters were not workers for the purposes of the definition under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) in Baker and others v Post Office Ltd.

A group of 120 postmasters brought claims arguing that they were workers of the Post Office and were therefore entitled to holiday pay under the WTR. The tribunal dealt with the question of worker status as a preliminary issue.

The tribunal found facts that suggested that the postmasters were subject to the control of the Post Office (the terms of their contracts were dictated by the Post Office). There were also detailed, prescriptive rules about how and where products could be sold which suggested that the Post Office branches run by the postmasters were closely integrated into the business of the Post Office as a whole.  

The tribunal then considered whether the postmasters' contracts required personal service and found that they did not. The postmasters could, and did, delegate to assistants and the Post Office had a limited right of veto over the assistants. This made it difficult to say that the substitution was not a reality. The postmasters had a responsibility to ensure that services were provided, whether by themselves or by an assistant, but this did not amount to personal service. In addition postmasters were not required to undergo training and there were no real disciplinary procedures, and although the Post Office required branches to open during certain hours, this was consistent with a service being provided on its behalf.

As there was no requirement for postmasters to provide services personally, they could not be workers for the purposes of the WTR.

Take note: In order to establish worker status there must be an obligation to provide work personally. Although a limited power to appoint a substitute is not inconsistent with an obligation of personal service, in this instance the postmasters just had to ensure that the services were provided; it did not matter if they were provided by themselves or an assistant.

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