Courier driver Don Lane was, according to the company DPD for which he worked, self-employed.
But he was a far cry from being his own boss – he did have to answer to a supervisor. He could not simply work when he wanted and take a day off here and there as many people who work for themselves can.
In fact, when Don desperately needed to take some time off for hospital appointments because of his diabetes, he couldn’t. That’s because not only did he not receive any sick pay – he would be doubly hit with a massive £150 fine if he did not find a replacement driver to take over his shift.
After being fined in July for attending a specialist appointment for eye damage caused by his diabetes, Don cancelled appointments afterwards – fearing he would be fined again. He collapsed twice on the job – and after working through Christmas despite his deteriorating condition, he died early last month.
“There was a constant threat of a fine,” Ruth Lane, Don’s widow, told the Guardian. “They had to deliver the parcels to tight slots and the pressure to get them done was huge. He wasn’t able to do his parcels first and make the hospital appointments, so he would cancel on the day.
‘Duty of care’
“DPD had a duty of care to make sure he got to those appointments, but they failed in it.”
Don was not alone among many couriers who – being bogusly self-employed – have few rights and aren’t entitled to sick or holiday pay.
And being fined for taking time off, even for medical purposes, is common practice among courier companies – as UNITElive reported last year, Parcelforce fines their workers £250 for missing days without finding a replacement.
Couriers and other workers may have held out hope that their fortunes would change today (February 7) when the government announced new plans to give precarious and self-employed workers greater rights and protections – but they were left sorely disappointed.
Called the Good Work Plan, the proposals were a response to the Taylor Report, which was published last year after an investigation into modern work practices in the UK.
Instead of taking action on zero-hours contracts, the government has announced only a right to ask for a more stable contract.
The government had previously pledged to take action on bogus self-employment, but today said it would only launch a ‘consultation on employment status’.
No.10 also announced it would enforce sick and holiday pay and ensure unpaid interns are not doing the job of a worker – but would not explain how.
Slap on wrist?
It said it would only ‘consider’ repealing laws allowing agencies to employ workers on cheaper rates; and it pledged to establish a ‘name and shame’ scheme for bosses who fail to pay employment tribunal rewards – but as a similar scheme for employers who don’t pay the legal minimum wage shows, such schemes amount to little more than a slap on the wrist.
Employment law expert Daniel Barrett said of today’s government announcements that people “should ignore what you’re hearing in the news” because the proposals were “damp squib”.
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey agreed.
“Launching four consultations and merely ‘considering’ proposals is just not good enough,” she said. “Like so much from this government, today’s response is just more words, with no real action to improve the lives of the millions of people in insecure work.
“Theresa May’s failure to strengthen workers’ rights is having a real impact on people’s lives,” she added, pointing to the case of DPD driver Don Lane’s recent death.
“Labour warned that the review did not go far enough, and yet the government has failed to adequately meet even the most basic of recommendations,” Long-Bailey went on to say.
Labour will transform workers’ lives
“The next Labour government will transform the lives of workers by ensuring equal rights from day one, banning zero hours contracts, introducing a real living wage of at least £10 per hour by 2020 and banning unpaid internships.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said that the UK’s economic woes could easily be explained by its lack of employment rights and protections.
“A strong economy and stable communities are not possible with a hire and fire workforce too frightened to take time off work to see a doctor as we tragically saw this week, or the Carillion workers left in limbo who after years of service get an email telling them they are sacked,” he said, adding that “the super-charging of low-wage, insecure work can be directly traced to the destructive deregulatory approach of the last 40 years.”
McCluskey urged the government “to accept that the best protection against worker abuse is strong enforcement coupled with strong trade unions.
“The world of work is changing rapidly. But its insecurity is heightened because of bad behaviour by some powerful vested interests. It is right that the government looks at how we can support workers through these changes, but we also need direct action to construct an economy that works for all.”