13:05, March 08 352 0 theguardian.com

2017-03-08 13:05:07
DPD and Parcelforce Worldwide face MPs' questions over working conditions

Parcel delivery firms DPD and Parcelforce Worldwide could be called before a parliamentary committee to answer questions about the working conditions faced by their self-employed couriers.

Frank Field, the Labour MP who chairs the work and pensions select committee, has written to the bosses of both companies asking them to contribute to an ongoing inquiry into the gig economy, after the Guardian revealed drivers were charged up to £250 if they could not provide cover when they were ill.

Field set the companies a deadline of 20 March to provide details of their contracts with “owner-driver” couriers. Owner-drivers are not directly employed by the company and must fund their own vehicle, fuel, insurance and uniform in return for payment per delivery.

Owner-drivers have a contract to deliver in a specified area and must pay for the cost of finding a replacement if they are off sick and do not provide an alternative courier themselves.

“The owner-driver approach creates the opportunity of greater financial returns for the owner-driver,” a spokesperson for Parcelforce said.

“Like any other business, however, the owner-driver is responsible for that business, rather than being an employee.”

Earlier this week Field said the charges appeared to be part of a “bidding war, to see who can slap the biggest penalty on workers who are sick”. Field has asked companies to explain the policy, including the legal basis of charging owner-drivers for taking the day off due to illness. He asked them to calculate how much couriers could expect to lose out on when sick, including lost earnings.

Parcelforce Worldwide’s managing director, Gary Simpson, and DPD’s UK chief executive, Dwain McDonald, were also told to supply a copy of the contract governing self-employed couriers. They were asked to provide data on the number of times courier rounds are covered by a substitute driver and how often each company has to source a replacement because the owner-driver is unable to do so.

Field asked them to detail the costs couriers are expected to meet themselves, such as uniform and fuel, as well as data on their average hourly rate and information about what efforts the companies go to to ensure owner-drivers are earning the “national living wage”.

Further information requested includes the hours couriers work per week and how long they have worked for the company.

Couriers have become a focal point of concerns about the precarious nature of employment in the gig economy, which is the subject of a review commissioned by Theresa May and led by former Tony Blair adviser Matthew Taylor.

Earlier this week, couriers who carry blood supplies and passports kicked off two new challenges to the gig economy. Five cyclists, motorcyclists and van drivers carrying emergency blood supplies to hospitals and samples to laboratories launched a claim against the Doctors Laboratory challenging their self-employed status, in the first gig economy test case to hit the healthcare sector.

More than 20 van drivers working for DX, an Aim-listed courier firm which works for Amazon, the US embassy and dozens of other clients, began legal action questioning their employment status.

Speaking on Tuesday at the first hearing into the future world of work by the Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee, Hannah Reed, a senior policy officer at the Trades Union Congress, said: “There should be a floor of rights for all working people – a single worker definition.”

Sue Tumelty, the founder and managing director of consultancy HR Dept, said: “I would like the ‘worker’ category to go.”