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Blow to gig economy

DPD to offer holiday and sick pay after courier’s death
Ryan Fletcher, Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

Another blow was struck against the gig economy yesterday (March 26) when delivery firm DPD announced it will be offering its 5,000 self-employed drivers holiday and sick pay after one of its couriers died because he couldn’t attend hospital appointments.


Unite said it was “appalling” that it took the death of a hardworking employee for DPD to provide the most basic of working rights to its staff and called on other gig economy firms and government to implement wholesale reforms to end the epidemic of exploitation.


Following outrage over the death of delivery driver Don Lane – who missed appointments with kidney specialists to avoid multiple £150 fines from DPD for not working – the company said it will now offer all of its drivers full employment contracts and end the system of punitive fines.


The 53-year-old’s widow said Lane missed three hospital appointments for kidney damage because he was under pressure from DPD to complete his rounds and would have faced daily £150 penalties if he could not find a replacement driver.


Commenting on DPD’s announcement, Lane’s widow, Ruth, told the Guardian, “It would have been lovely if it had been sooner. This won’t bring Don back. If this had happened a few years back I might not have lost him.”


DPD chief executive Dawain McDonald said the system of classifying drivers as self-employed used by the firm, which made £100m profit in 2017, “hasn’t moved with the times and needs updated”.


He said, “Our plan is to completely transform our overall driver offer, as well as the day-to-day working relationship we have with our drivers.”


Fundamental reforms

DPD is one of a number of delivery firms, including Hermes, Yodel and UK Mail, that use armies of self-employed couriers. It is the first such firm to fundamentally reform its employment practices.


Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said other gig economy firms, who employ around 1.1m people in the UK, have a “moral duty” to follow DPD’s lead.


“It is appalling that it took the death of an exploited, hard working driver for DPD to make these much needed changes. Payment of the minimum wage alongside sick / holiday pay and other basic working rights are not things that workers should have to fight for. Nor should workers have to live in fear of being fined, if the workload is simply too much or if they fall ill,” said Turner.


“The very fact that DPD’s decision could be interpreted as a victory for workers just goes to show how rotten sections of the UK’s labour market currently are. Gig economy firms have a moral duty to follow DPD’s example. But unfortunately calls for decency and fairness aren’t enough to prompt the systemic changes needed.


“That’s why Unite is calling on the government to bar sham umbrella companies, shift the burden of proof that a worker is self-employed onto employers, introduce sectoral collective bargaining and strengthen trade unions. Only then will bogus self-employment, exploitative precarious work and abusive corporate behaviour be stamped out.”



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