COMMERCE IS KILLING THE COURIER

  • Amazon-parcel-delivery

There are a number of predictions which suggest that the workplace is moving towards a flexible, almost freelance culture. More time outside the office, working hours which suit your lifestyle, being your own boss, independence – the ‘benefits’ are starting to sound familiar…

The swing towards more flexible working hours is a global one, and comes with the rise of 24/7 lifestyles. As a courier, this has long been one of the pulls of the job. Despite this, the worrying trend of poor courier treatment perseveres on an almost global scale, especially when looking at the ‘last-mile delivery’ leg.

Parcel-delivery couriers working at companies such as Yodel and UK Mail – some of the UK’s largest – have long criticised their employers for staff’s long hours, low pay and little-to-no protection, as well as being classed as self-employed. And it’s by no means a trend unique to the UK. Similar discrimination effects workers across the globe, as is the case with so-called ‘unskilled’ work. Alongside this, same-day delivery expectations, high unemployment rates, inner-city congestion and inner-city low-carbon legislation are just some of the factors affecting last-mile couriers.

It took the death of Don Lane, a DPD courier, who died of complications arising from diabetes after missing appointments with specialists, for DPD to change their internal policies, although the company still refutes claims that he was under pressure. Allegedly, Mr Lane feared DPD’s controversial £150 daily fine for missing work without finding adequate cover. He had worked for the company for 19 years before his death in January 2017. DPD now has the option for workers to be classed as ‘eitherworkers’: a policy which includes sick pay, paid holiday and access to a pension scheme, rather than remaining a self-employed franchisee.

Despite the tragic origins, this movement could be a starting point for the protection of couriers who are working in similar situations: recently a group of 65 couriers employed by Hermes won the right to be treated as ‘workers’ with minimum wage and holiday pay. This could ultimately mean up to 14,500 Hermes employees will be affected (although Hermes have strongly hinted their intent to appeal the decision).

According to a 2017 survey from the Chartered Institute of Professional Development, the average amount gig-economy workers – including couriers – earn per hour is ‘low’, with the median hourly rate for persons delivering goods as being just £6. The same report stated that ‘41% of gig economy workers who deliver goods or services say this type of gig economy activity earned them 20% or less of their total income over the last year, while just 17% report that this work earned them 50% or more of their total income.’ And that’s not the end of it. The report goes on to confirm low rates of financial stability, low confidence in the ability to save for retirement, and 58% of gig workers who say they couldn’t find a ‘traditional’ job with an employer saying they find things ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’.

It’s by no means all doom and gloom, and as much as some people may hate to say it, Amazon are one of the stars of forward-thinking within this sector. Within the last month, the company has spearheaded two dramatic changes: raising their minimum wage in the U.S. to $15 an hour, and introducing the Amazon Delivery Service Partners Program. The Delivery Service Partners programme has been so successful, that Amazon had to quadruple their order for Mercedes Benz Sprinter vans to cope with demand, before eventually having to reject all further offers.   

They’re in quite a unique position as a company, with part of their sales pitch to interested entrepreneurs being guaranteed consignment levels from Amazon, as well as access to Amazon’s technology and software. There is also training support and discounts on resources such as uniform., fuel and vehicle insurance. At the time of announcing the programme, Amazon’s SVP of Global Operations, Dave Clark, said: ‘Customer demand is higher than ever and we have a need to build more capacity’.

And finally, it’s not just the global fulfilment giants who are changing the face of shipping. There have long been crowdsourced delivery companies at work, with the benefit of using non-professional couriers to make in the pipeline. The tech-heavy approach to the delivery process seems to be particularly attractive to the Gen-Y and Gen-Z populations, who are going to make up approximately 25% of the US e-commerce market by 2025 according to McKinsey. 

But with both the Amazon Partners programme and the crowdsourcing, we are back to our original problems: the protection of employees. Crowdsourcing companies such as Deliveroo are already seeing International strike action over its treatment of workers. I strongly suspect that Amazon’s DSPP is going to mean employees belong to third-party franchises, rather than the Amazon ‘umbrella’. 

Ultimately, time will tell whether break-off SMEs are the answer to courier well-being in the age of instant gratification. 

Sarah O’Connell, Senior Editor, FORWARDER magazine  

There are a number of predictions which suggest that the workplace is moving towards a flexible, almost freelance culture. More time outside the office, working hours which suit your lifestyle, being your own boss, independence – the ‘benefits’ are starting to sound familiar…

The swing towards more flexible working hours is a global one, and comes with the rise of 24/7 lifestyles. As a courier, this has long been one of the pulls of the job. Despite this, the worrying trend of poor courier treatment perseveres on an almost global scale, especially when looking at the ‘last-mile delivery’ leg.

Parcel-delivery couriers working at companies such as Yodel and UK Mail – some of the UK’s largest – have long criticised their employers for staff’s long hours, low pay and little-to-no protection, as well as being classed as self-employed. And it’s by no means a trend unique to the UK. Similar discrimination effects workers across the globe, as is the case with so-called ‘unskilled’ work. Alongside this, same-day delivery expectations, high unemployment rates, inner-city congestion and inner-city low-carbon legislation are just some of the factors affecting last-mile couriers.

It took the death of Don Lane, a DPD courier, who died of complications arising from diabetes after missing appointments with specialists, for DPD to change their internal policies, although the company still refutes claims that he was under pressure. Allegedly, Mr Lane feared DPD’s controversial £150 daily fine for missing work without finding adequate cover. He had worked for the company for 19 years before his death in January 2017. DPD now has the option for workers to be classed as ‘eitherworkers’: a policy which includes sick pay, paid holiday and access to a pension scheme, rather than remaining a self-employed franchisee.

Despite the tragic origins, this movement could be a starting point for the protection of couriers who are working in similar situations: recently a group of 65 couriers employed by Hermes won the right to be treated as ‘workers’ with minimum wage and holiday pay. This could ultimately mean up to 14,500 Hermes employees will be affected (although Hermes have strongly hinted their intent to appeal the decision).

According to a 2017 survey from the Chartered Institute of Professional Development, the average amount gig-economy workers – including couriers – earn per hour is ‘low’, with the median hourly rate for persons delivering goods as being just £6. The same report stated that ‘41% of gig economy workers who deliver goods or services say this type of gig economy activity earned them 20% or less of their total income over the last year, while just 17% report that this work earned them 50% or more of their total income.’ And that’s not the end of it. The report goes on to confirm low rates of financial stability, low confidence in the ability to save for retirement, and 58% of gig workers who say they couldn’t find a ‘traditional’ job with an employer saying they find things ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’.

It’s by no means all doom and gloom, and as much as some people may hate to say it, Amazon are one of the stars of forward-thinking within this sector. Within the last month, the company has spearheaded two dramatic changes: raising their minimum wage in the U.S. to $15 an hour, and introducing the Amazon Delivery Service Partners Program. The Delivery Service Partners programme has been so successful, that Amazon had to quadruple their order for Mercedes Benz Sprinter vans to cope with demand, before eventually having to reject all further offers.   

They’re in quite a unique position as a company, with part of their sales pitch to interested entrepreneurs being guaranteed consignment levels from Amazon, as well as access to Amazon’s technology and software. There is also training support and discounts on resources such as uniform., fuel and vehicle insurance. At the time of announcing the programme, Amazon’s SVP of Global Operations, Dave Clark, said: ‘Customer demand is higher than ever and we have a need to build more capacity’.

And finally, it’s not just the global fulfilment giants who are changing the face of shipping. There have long been crowdsourced delivery companies at work, with the benefit of using non-professional couriers to make in the pipeline. The tech-heavy approach to the delivery process seems to be particularly attractive to the Gen-Y and Gen-Z populations, who are going to make up approximately 25% of the US e-commerce market by 2025 according to McKinsey. 

But with both the Amazon Partners programme and the crowdsourcing, we are back to our original problems: the protection of employees. Crowdsourcing companies such as Deliveroo are already seeing International strike action over its treatment of workers. I strongly suspect that Amazon’s DSPP is going to mean employees belong to third-party franchises, rather than the Amazon ‘umbrella’. 

Ultimately, time will tell whether break-off SMEs are the answer to courier well-being in the age of instant gratification. 

Sarah O’Connell, Senior Editor, FORWARDER magazine  

2018-10-09T18:03:14+00:00October 9th, 2018|Categories: FORWARDER Focus|Tags: |
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