DPD Courier Discussion
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The recent case of Don Lane DPD driver, cases against Amazon courier firm UKXD, UBER and CitySprint show the new low of exploitation that so called platform working (so called innovators) is now breaching UK employment. Instead of reports by Taylor, instead of rhetoric that the law needs to keep up with innovation, it is very simple, there are laws, and innovators if they had respect for workers and the law, would apply them. Instead they ignore them, and create exploitative conditions.
A good article here to support these arguments
A good article here to support these arguments
Are you feeling exploited? Get in touch, lets have a chat.The gig economy is being fuelled by exploitation, not innovation
The death of a DPD courier is the brutal end-game for the gig economy’s faux innovation
Don Lane was not employed by delivery firm DPD when he died. The 53-year-old, from Christchurch in Dorset, was self-employed, part of the UK’s booming yet precarious gig economy. Lane, who had worked for DPD for 19 years, missed appointments with specialists and died after collapsing as a result of his diabetes. He leaves behind his wife Ruth, and a 22-year-old son.
Lane’s case is the deplorable end-game for the gig economy. He 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. He was fined for attending one appointment and subsequently missed three others. He collapsed at the wheel of his DPD delivery van late last year before dying in hospital in January. It sounds draconian, but the conditions Lane worked under are not extraordinary.
The mistake made in so much of the debate surrounding the gig economy is to assume it is a modern issue caused by digital technology. It is not. Gig economy companies succeed because of how they apply, or fail to apply, long-standing and robust employment law. DPD, which was founded in 1977 and is owned by the French government, is a typical example.
DPD and other courier companies of its ilk normally classify drivers as self-employed. This means that each and every driver technically runs their own delivery business and that the courier company is a customer of each driver. One firm that delivers on behalf of Amazon requires drivers work for free until they have built up £1,500 in credit. This money is then held against them. Restrictions placed on couriers are strict and make earning even minimum wage a relentless slog.
Failure to work for a day results in a £110 fine. Typically, drivers who cannot complete their shifts are asked to find someone to cover for them. In the case of Don Lane, finding anyone with the requisite training and knowledge of the systems he was required to use would likely prove nigh-on impossible. But, as he was self-employed, that would be his problem. Deductions may also be made for any damage to delivery vans. Drivers are then forced to work without pay until the £1,500 is topped-up.
Long hours are common. As are fines for days off and missed delivery targets. Delivery routes, dictated by algorithms, fail to take into account customers not being in, or drivers getting stuck in unexpectedly heavy traffic. An investigation by The Mirror in December 2017 found that drivers delivering for Amazon were required to handle up to 200 parcels a day while earning less than minimum wage. These drivers were not employed by Amazon, but instead worked for courier companies contracted to the retail giant. One lawyer representing drivers making claims against the courier company described the working conditions as “almost Dickensian”.
Yet, slowly, the gig economy is starting to lose its battle. Last year, landmark rulings against Uber and CitySprint found that people previously categorised as self-employed were, in fact, not. Uber is appealing and its case will likely be heard by the Supreme Court in 2019. CitySprint, meanwhile, has been heavily criticised for “making a mockery” of employment law by only applying a ruling against it to one courier, not the 3,000-plus couriers that it continues to count as self-employed.
That is why the government’s response to the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, which was released today, feels, as the GMB Union aptly put it, like “tinkering around the edges”. The Review, which was submitted to the government in July 2017 sought to make recommendations around how modern working practices are impacting the world of work. It was designed to be simple to implement and, as a result, contained no new primary legislation.
In its response, the government promises to improve holiday pay and sick pay rights for gig economy workers. It emphasises that the rights of vulnerable workers will be “enforced” and that reforms will help employment law keep pace with modern ways of working “created by rapid technological change”. This is a wilful distortion of the facts. As rulings against gig economy companies have shown, existing employment law is sufficient but isn’t being adequately enforced. Just ask Uber and CitySprint.
When business secretary Greg Clark says the UK will be “one of the first countries to prepare our employment rules to reflect the new challenges”, he is dodging the issue. The law already exists. The government just chooses not to enforce it. It is exactly this kind of empty rhetoric that led to Clark’s colleague Chris Philip, private secretary to the treasury, to say that Transport for London’s decision not to renew Uber’s licence sent “a terrible signal that London is anti-free market and anti-innovation”.
It is also a mistake to think that the so-called gig economy is all about taxis and couriers. The problem of low-quality, unreliable and underpaid work is widespread. In November 2017, support staff at the University of London launched a landmark case arguing that they should be able to negotiate their pay and conditions directly with the university, rather than the outsourcing firm that actually employs them. While in this case the issue is with the outsourcing of work, it follows a similar pattern of the precariousness of vulnerable workers.
Curiously, one of Uber’s central arguments in the gig economy case against it relies on a previous ruling in favour of a strip club. In 2012, a topless dancer who worked at a Stringfellows club in London lost her claim of unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal. Nadine Quashie argued that working conditions at Stringfellows effectively made dancers employees, not self-employed.
In its ruling, the tribunal found that Quashie’s dancing was ancillary to the main purpose of Stringfellows, which was viewed as a restaurant. Quashie and other dancers, the tribunal ruled, were provided with a marketplace to sell their services. Uber has claimed the same, albeit in this case the marketplace is taxis, not topless dancers.
Later this month, a self-employment case against Pimlico Plumbers will be heard in the Supreme Court. The hearing, granted to the firm in August 2017, came after the Court of Appeal ruled that self-employed plumber Gary Smith was technically employed and thus entitled to standard rights and benefits. It will be the first gig economy case to reach the UK’s highest court and could set a decisive legal precedent for how a raft of similar cases proceed.
But for definitive action to be taken, the government needs to stop using technology as an excuse. DPD, and countless other couriers like it satiating the UK’s veracious, on-demand consumerism, are not marvels of technological innovation. They are marvels of exploitation. The law is on the side of the ordinary people, it’s time to start enforcing it.
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