Fears are growing that delivery drivers are being asked to work dangerously long hours for extremely low wages.
Some drivers have reportedly worked for up to 20 days in a row without any rest days, and concerns have also been raised some are paid below the minimum wage.
Mark Cartwright, head of vans at the Freight Transport Association, told What Van? such lengthy working shifts “affect the van driver’s well-being and safety of other road users”.
“Our colleagues in the police have raised concerns about some delivery companies,” Cartwright said. “They’ve found fatigued drivers on a number of occasions and a number of worn-out vans.” Simon Cook, LCV consultant at Arval, said delivery companies should avoid cutting corners on van maintenance: “If a van is due for servicing in January, then it should be serviced in Janaury, no matter what operational demands you face. There is a temptation to put it back but you will simply be taking unnecessary risks.”
Cartwright added that van operators “have a responsibility not to overwork drivers and force them into doing more drops than they can manage”.
Frank Field, chair of MPs’ group the Work and Pensions Select Committee, has written to Richard Judge, chief executive of the Health and Safety Executive, to look into the dangers of delivery drivers working up to seven days a week without rest.
In a letter to the prime minister outlining issues with the ‘gig economy’ – whereby companies contract workers for short periods – Field said a Hermes courier, who subsequently lost their job, was told they “should have another car on the driveway” by a manager when they explained they couldn’t work because of a vehicle breakdown.
Hermes – which delivers for stores including John Lewis – could face an investigation by HMRC after a number of former workers claimed they were paid less than the minimum wage.
Speaking to What Van?, a driver for the brand said they earn between 49p and 79p per delivery depending on the size of the parcel.
“Morale isn’t great, we work hard with little support, and getting time off is stressful,” they said.
As Hermes couriers are classed as self-employed workers, they do not receive sick or holiday pay. Van drivers are also not reimbursed for fuel costs, leading some to work unsociable hours.
However, the driver did admit to liking the job as it offers flexible working hours, including the chance to work weekends.
According to Hermes, 10,500 self-employed drivers are currently registered to work for the company and it defended itself against allegations it has underpaid its workers.
“We have voluntarily embedded the principles of the National Living Wage into our business as the minimum standard for any remuneration agreements with the self-employed couriers we use,” a spokeswoman told What Van?
“In addition, we have chosen to exceed the National Living Wage and have set our minimum standard at £7.80 per hour, taking into account any expenses the couriers may accrue. We are confident in the accuracy of our courier pay model and our records clearly show that our average courier rate is £9.80, 36% above the minimum wage, after all legitimate expenses have been deducted.”
But David Jinks, head of consumer research at price comparison firm Parcelhero, said “The growth of e-commerce has been rapid and brought wealth to many, but the man ’n’ van independent courier at the bottom of the food chain operates on wafer-thin margins. The temptation to drive for longer periods than are safe is very great.”
Cartwright – who also heads up the FTA’s Van Excellence scheme to promote good practice within the industry – concluded by adding that not all couriers treat employees badly and that there are positive examples around. “There are some out there who don’t cut corners and they should be commended for their actions,” he said.