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Montreal bike couriers protest stormy work conditions, company refutes claims of contract dispute

Montreal bike messengers protest unsafe work conditions
WATCH: Montreal's recent winter storm has thrown a spotlight on life as a bike messenger in Montreal. As Global's Billy Shields reports, many couriers said their lives were at risk during the storm and they are demanding better working conditions.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that couriers at QA Courier made $80 downside guarantee. This has been fixed.

A group of Montreal bike couriers are demonstrating on Beaver Hall Hill Monday over what they are calling a contract dispute over unsafe work conditions during the last winter storm.

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Workers at QA Courier say they walked off the job last Wednesday after being told to deliver parcels during “difficult weather conditions” as about 40 cm of snow fell in the city.

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“When [parcels arrived] late, they [the company] became irritated with us, so we decided collectively as a group to come to the office and demand a conversation about our right to refuse work,” said Brett Barmby, a QA bike courier.
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“And our compensation to work in dangerous conditions is just not fair.”

The couriers currently work as contractors on commission but claim this doesn’t adequately compensate them when the weather gets rough.

They say they usually get a downside guarantee of about $125 for an eight-hour day.

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“This is before expenses. We’re expected to take care of everything for our bikes,” said Ryan MacFarland, a courier.

The couriers say they want to be hired as salaried employees with benefits like overtime, sick leave and vacation.

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The company disputes the couriers’ claims, saying the workers did not mention weather concerns when they walked off the job. QA Courier president Peter Hansen says the workers simply said they would withhold deliveries if they didn’t get more money.

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“There was no talk whatsoever about safety, there was no talk about the weather,” said Hansen.

“They just put their deliveries on the table and said, ‘we’re done.'”

According to the company, couriers can receive a commission of anywhere between 65 and 75 per cent on a delivery — if they can get it to its destination on time.

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“Bikers used to be able to do 40 to 60 deliveries a day. My guys average 26 deliveries a day,” he said.

Hansen has retained a lawyer and says he’s assessing how to move forward.