Couriers and logistics workers have been on the frontline of fighting the pandemic, providing an essential service to society. The bosses, however, have put these key workers’ lives on the line. But delivery workers are fighting back.
Couriers and delivery services have been seriously let down by the government and employers when it comes to the response to COVID-19.
As a result of the pandemic, a once unorganised mass of workers have now been propelled into the spotlight as heroes, alongside NHS staff and other frontline workers.
Couriers have become a vital network, connecting the threadbare economy: be it delivering IT equipment to people’s homes; NHS prescriptions to vulnerable individuals; transporting medical and biological samples; or just the weekly shop for families. Yet we are actively being punished for this key role.
The Guardian ran a headline at the start of the crisis that said ‘People are so thankful’: how delivery drivers became the new emergency service. But we don’t need thanks; we need support and protection – now!
Slap in the face
The story of couriers and PPE has been the same as for so many other sectors of key workers. For some, it was never provided; for others, it was two-or-three weeks too late, and often inadequate to provide genuine protection.
When CitySprint finally gave out face masks, for example, they were non-medical and purely aesthetic. In other words, it was just a box-ticking exercise. They even had the audacity to put their own logo on a branded antibacterial gel!
While the Tory government continues to struggle in procuring PPE from the world market, there are factories sitting idle here in the UK that could be producing equipment to protect NHS employees and other key workers. The anarchic capitalist system is completely inefficient when it comes to responding to crises.
We are angry that our labour has been unprotected – the labour that has kept companies profiting, the economy ticking, and people eating.
This is further exacerbated by the fact that the vast majority of us are on zero-hour contracts. Officially we are ‘self-employed’, therefore we are not entitled to be furloughed; nor can we claim sick pay, nor in some cases income support.
For us that have and will fall ill to the virus, it is another slap in the face. Meanwhile, the Johnson’s government continues to play their dangerous game – sacrificing the lives of workers who have no choice but to work in dangerous conditions.
There has been a very limited response from employers in supporting delivery drivers and couriers. But even with government support, workers have faced further cuts, as the bosses look to reduce costs, save profits, and keep their pockets full.
As the crisis goes on, we are now seeing the bosses go on the offensive against employees. They are carrying out malicious attacks at a time of extreme uncertainty. But should we expect anything less from these parasites?
Organise and strike
Recently, the chair of the IWGB courier and logistics branch, Alex Marshall, was told that he faces dismissal from The Doctors Laboratory (TDL), along with nine other drivers, right bang in the midst of this crisis. These workers have been transporting samples of COVID-19 around London – and this is the thanks they get for the key role they play in fighting the pandemic.
⚠️TRADE UNION VICTIMISATION CANNOT BE TOLERATED! ⚠️
Thank you @RachaelMaskell MP for calling on TDL’s parent company Sonic Healthcare to help defend the #TDL10 from victimisation and dismissal!
? “I am calling for you to intervene and protect these workers at this crucial time.” pic.twitter.com/9K51oAv27V
— IWGB Couriers & Logistics Branch (@IWGB_CLB) May 11, 2020
TDL boasted profits of over £28 million last year, with the CEO netting a cool £1million. The company paid over £75 million in dividends to its Australian-based parent company, Sonic Healthcare, between 2014-18. The numbers don’t lie: there is more than enough money to keep these key workers, who are only earning a tiny fraction compared to the execs’ paypacket.
The IWGB – who represent most of the organised couriers and delivery drivers in the UK – have launched a campaign to hit back and ‘Defend the #TDL10’. They are also balloting for strike action.
CEO of TDL, David Byrne, has tried to intimidate the drivers by threatening legal action against the IWGB. But the union has every right to speak out, to campaign, and to legally strike against job cuts.
Pay per drop; work til you drop
The capitalists are clearly using the crisis as an excuse to ‘restructure’ in order to cut costs, attack those that are organised, and maximise profits at the expense of workers. The courier and logistics industry is just the tip of the iceberg of a systematic problem that we are only just seeing the beginning of.
70 ASOS workers were dismissed on 1 May. This consisted of 20 admin staff and 50 delivery drivers, originally employed by delivery company Menzies to deliver parcels for the clothing brand.
Menzies informed drivers that they were going to be TUPE transferred. No one was being made redundant; they’d all be moved to a new contract with DPD. However, it soon became clear what their real intentions were, as the agreement was delayed and then plainly not honoured.
“We’re being chucked on the scrap heap,” stated delivery driver Jakaria Khan. “Our jobs were supposed to be safe. We were promised a transfer to DPD. But now we’re all going to be made redundant, with no hope of future employment. We are facing the abyss, mid-pandemic.”
As is the case with so many precarious jobs and zero-hour contracts – including workers at DPD and Hermes, whom ASOS have moved to – you are incentivised by a pay-per-drop system, rather than given a fixed hourly rate. This is cheaper for the suppliers, and harsher on the workers.
The IWGB managed to win an extra month’s employment for the drivers they represented there. But the majority were chucked.
These pay-per-drop conditions are incredibly damaging to cycle couriers working inside the City. Their income has drastically dropped with the drop in demand for their services. The pay-per-drop rate leaves some workers earning as little as £20 for a full day’s work.
Make the bosses pay!
If you have been self-employed for under 12 months, you are not entitled to income support from HMRC. This leaves some workers with families in a truly awful situation. The government’s excuse for this is that they would be unable to work out which claims were fraudulent. But the DWP manages okay with Universal Credit.
The IWGB are doing good work in legally challenging the government in its treatment of workers in this sector. They are also helping to support both English and Spanish speakers in obtaining legal advice and applying for Universal Credit.
This is a small union, doing what it can with limited resources. But its fighting spirit puts much of the traditional trade union leadership to shame, as they continue to offer only a tepid resistance to the bosses and the government during the crisis.
Businesses should be covering any fall in workers’ wages out of their profits. We must organise and fight for an end to all zero-hour contracts and precarious work! Ensure effective PPE for all key workers! Provide sick pay and full wages for all! Make the bosses pay!