Government policy and practices haven’t always kept up with our changing economy and lifestyles and, sometimes, bad policy can have tragic consequences. But from these tragedies some good can still come by bringing awareness to the need for changes to legislation. |
Read on to learn about calls for better legislation, why that’s important and how it affects you as a delivery worker.
A Wake-Up Call
Transport industry reform has been a long time coming and, sadly, it took things to go very badly wrong to kickstart the process in one particular instance.
As many companies do, the business involved in the case charged workers for missed shifts. This, combined with a lack of sick pay, meant a courier driver allegedly missed hospital appointments and, it seems, felt pressured to work when he was medically unfit. The man, who was also diabetic, suffered a heart attack after doing some deliveries and, sadly, later died in hospital.
Investigations and Inquiries
The events led to the man’s wife to begin an employment tribunal, which alleged a breach of the Equalities Act, on the grounds that the company had failed to make allowances for the man’s diabetes.
It also had another prong, with potential for a larger impact on the wider industry. At the time of his death, the man was counted as a self-employed ‘franchisee’, paid per parcel. This shouldn’t be unfamiliar as it’s pretty close to industry standard. The issue, however, is that classing workers as ‘self-employed’ means they’re not entitled to standard benefits. In these situations a courier driver risks being denied sick pay, pensions and other benefits that are guaranteed to other workers.
Effects of the Gig Economy
This problem is of course not unique to the courier industry. You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘gig economy’ on TV or in the newspapers; put simply, it means an economy where workers are less likely to have stable long-term careers and more likely to adjust their hours and pay in response to a variety of different short-term jobs.
There are benefits to this, of course. But something is wrong when companies treat their workers as, well, workers, but fail to provide for them. They do this by using legal loopholes to classify workers as ‘self-employed’, which can leave them, like the courier driver above, at risk.
What Needs to be Done
The employment tribunal mentioned above isn’t the only case of its kind. In fact, high-profile court rulings have recently held that many self-employed workers are in fact entitled to the full protection of employment law. The company involved in the case above has also promised to adjust its practices, introducing employment contracts for those who wish and sick pay for all.
But this may not be enough. The problem may be far too deep-rooted to be solved by mere court rulings. The Employment Rights Act 1996 is the most recent statute law addressing these issues and it’s more than 20 years out of date. What’s more, that law doesn’t even make it clear who counts as a worker. To find one that does, we have to go back to the nineteenth century – to a time when the light bulb was considered revolutionary!
Activist and workers’ groups have been steadily increasing pressure on the government to address this issue, on behalf of the many people working in the ‘gig economy’. It’s early days yet, but some in parliament seem to be taking notice. And if clearer legislation is brought in, you could find your employment rights drastically increased very soon. Watch this space...
Norman Dulwich is a correspondent for Courier Exchange, the world's largest neutral trading hub for same day courier driver work in the express freight exchange industry. Over 5,400 member companies are networked together through the Exchange to fill empty capacity, get new clients and form long-lasting business relationships.
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