Drivers at Hermes, one of the UK’s largest delivery firms, say they are having to work for free for several hours a day.
Couriers in several areas of the country say they feel compelled to “muck in” with the parcel sorting process in understaffed depots because they cannot start earning any money until it is done.
"People should not be working for free and people should not be exploited into working for free,” said the GMB union’s national officer Mick Rix.
Drivers came forward to describe the “impossible choice” they regularly face, explaining that as they get paid per delivery, they are entirely dependent on the sorting process being completed before they can start their working day. Many depots are routinely understaffed, they said, meaning the process can sometimes be lengthy. As a result, many feel compelled to go in early and help with the sorting without pay because their alternative would be to start late in the day and work until well after dark to get their deliveries done and keep up their earnings.
“There is this relationship that you find that exists in the gig economy where you think: how far do the norms go before it becomes accepted? What seems to be the acceptance here is that people are sorting parcels to ensure that they can get their deliveries out and they’re doing it for free,” said Rix. “Sometimes you’ve got to wonder: is the success of companies such as Hermes in some respects because they can charge such a low price to clients and customers, because there’s a workforce that’s subsidising that price?” he said. “We think that is part of the model that has now got to change for the future. You can’t say you are decent companies if you are not treating people and looking after people well. People are just not going to wear that any more.”
Meanwhile, new research by the Living Wage Foundation suggests that two-fifths of UK workers are given only short notice of their working hours, research has revealed, with lower-paid staff suffering the most during the pandemic, in a sign that precarious employment practices are widespread across the economy.
38% of all workers – representing about 10 million people in the UK workforce – were being given less than a week’s notice of shift patterns by their employer.
In research exposing the scale of precarious work, the figures suggest that chaotic employment practices and just-in-time arrangements extend well beyond roles in hospitality, retail and warehousing into typically higher-paying professional jobs.
Short-notice periods were even more pronounced for those in jobs with variable hours or shift work built into their contracts, with 62% having less than a week to prepare for their schedule. At the extreme, 12% of this group – amounting to 7% all working adults – had less than 24 hours’ notice. Low-paid, full-time workers from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, and those with children, were also disproportionately affected.
Laura Gardiner, the director of the Living Wage Foundation, said lack of clear notice of shift patterns meant millions of workers were being forced to make impossible choices on childcare, transport and other important aspects of family life.