http://www.wired.co.uk/article/dpd-uk-g ... hts-amazon
All DPD couriers will now have access to basic employment rights after the death of one worker exposed the harsh conditions faced by thousands of gig economy delivery drivers
DPD’s decision to class all its drivers as workers is the latest in a growing list of concessions made by gig economy firms. But there’s still a long way to go.
Around 6,000 people working for the courier company will now have access to sick and holiday pay and a pension scheme after it admitted its use of self-employed workers hadn’t “moved with the times”. Crucially, DPD – which delivers parcels on behalf of retailers including Marks & Spencer and John Lewis – will also abolish the £150 daily fines it issues to couriers for missing work.
Tragically, it took the death of one of DPD’s couriers for the firm to realise changes were needed. Don Lane, who was 53 when he died, reportedly missed appointments because he felt under pressure to complete his rounds for DPD and faced £150 penalties for every day he failed to find cover. Lane collapsed at the wheel of his DPD delivery van late last year before dying in hospital in January. Though DPD has now been forced to change, a myriad of other courier firms employ similar tactics.
A month before Lane’s death, logistics firm UK Express Delivery reached an out-of-court settlement with four of its self-employed drivers totalling nearly £80,000. The case, brought by law firm Leigh Day with support from the GMB union, was due to be heard at an employment tribunal in Leeds on January 15. Neither party is allowed to disclose the details of the deal. As with employment cases against Deliveroo and Uber, the claimants sought to argue that the restraints placed on them by UK Express meant they were not only employed but also being paid less than minimum wage. The GMB said UK Express, which mostly delivers parcels for Amazon, had realised it was going to lose and decided to settle. A spokesperson for the courier company said this statement was “misleading”. Amazon said it was “not involved” in the tribunal claim against UK Express.
Speaking before the settlement, Nigel Mackay, a solicitor on the employment team of London-based Leigh Day, explained to me how logistics firms such as UK Express operate. The conditions tally with those experienced by Lane: fines for missing shifts, fines for not attempting redelivery enough times and fines for failing to deliver enough parcels in a shift. Under their contracts with UK Express, the four clients being represented by Leigh Day had to work for free until they had built up a balance of £1,500. That money was then held against them and deducted from when couriers stepped out of line – £110 for a missed shift, for example. The couriers then had to work without pay until the £1,500 balance was topped-up. For gig economy workers at courier firms across the UK, such conditions are commonplace.
“There’s no sick pay, they actually have to pay money back to their company, which is extraordinary when you think about it. You’re fining people for not being able to work,” Mackay says. On Glassdoor, an anonymous employee reviews site, feedback left by former couriers paints an equally grim picture. “Long hours, crap money,” reads one. “Too much 'control' to be self-employed,” reads another. One former driver warns, simply, “This job will completely destroy your health and family life”.
Evidence handed to Mackay and his colleagues included reams of WhatsApp messages sent between UK Express drivers and managers. Hundreds of messages were exchanged every day, with managers dictating which drivers were approved for which shift. “They would constantly get told you have to be available, particularly in the run up to Christmas, for five days a week, then it was six days a week. And if you’re not available, then you’re out, basically.”
The gig economy is being fuelled by exploitation, not innovation
UK Express, like scores of other courier firms up and down the UK, delivers almost exclusively for Amazon. “They have a presence in a lot of Amazon depots,” says Mackay. Each courier firm competes for delivery routes at each depot. “Amazon uses the threat of removing routes from the companies to get the companies to put pressure on the drivers. It’s driven from the top down. Amazon is at the top of all of this.”
The online retail giant’s increasing reliance on a network of little-known courier companies has been largely driven by the expansion of its Prime service, which promises customers unlimited one-day delivery, with same day delivery also available in a number of major UK cities. Prime Now, which launched in the UK in June 2015, provides two-hour delivery on “everyday essentials” in nine cities. And so, to serve our on-demand addiction, the UK’s delivery business is booming.
While Uber and Deliveroo dominate the UK’s taxi and food delivery industries, in the business of getting parcels to our doors on-demand, competition is fierce. DPD, which reported a £100 million profit in 2017, is one of the biggest – industry-wide, it’s estimated that £10 billion of business was up for grabs last year alone. Royal Mail, Hermes and Yodel continue to dominate, but the unstoppable expansion of Amazon is having a profound impact. One year after the debut of Prime Now in the UK, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said that the firm had been forced to “take over a lot of last mile delivery in the UK” as the Royal Mail, which uses almost no self-employed drivers, had run out of capacity at peak times.
In February this year, Amazon announced plans to launch its own package delivery service, dubbed Shipping With Amazon, in Los Angeles. “We are always innovating and experimenting,” an Amazon spokesperson said at the time. Royal Mail is not without blame. In December 2017, four self-employed couriers for Parcelforce, a delivery firm owned by Royal Mail, launched legal action seeking employee rights. Chief executive Moya Greene has accused rival firms of using “fictitious self-employment” to cut costs and avoid tax.
Leigh Day, which was involved in the case against Parcelforce, is also currently making enquiries about two other courier firms, Prospect Commercials and Lloyd Link Logistics. “It’s a bit of a wild west at the moment,” Mackay says. If 2017 was a major year for lawsuits against gig economy firms in the UK, 2018 (and likely 2019) are going to be a lot busier. Major cases against Uber and Deliveroo will soon be making headlines as employment tribunals and appeal courts consider how long-established employment law applies to gig economy companies. To date, nearly every single trial has sided with the workers. Ultimately, where DPD has now gone, the UK’s employment tribunals and courts may soon force others to follow.