On New Year’s Eve, more than 2,300 workers at City Link found out their jobs had been axed. However in addition to this, more than 1,000 self-employed van drivers and agency workers who earned a living from the failed parcel delivery firm can’t even expect to receive a redundancy letter.
These subjugated workers have had no communication from the company that many have worked for for years. One employee who has been part of the team for nearly a decade has received no letter, no text or email thanking him for his loyalty and confirming that his job is finished. Instead he learnt like everybody else that the company had folded whilst watching the news on Christmas day. The reason for this is that these self employed drivers and agency workers were never counted as employees of City Link, instead they were given titles such as service delivery partners. Why were not employed directly you ask? The answer; so that City Link could employ a fleet of contract workers with no guaranteed hours, sick pay, holiday pay or entitlement to redundancy. City Link owes many of these workers thousands of pounds for weeks of hard work, but following the collapse it highly unlikely that they will ever see this money.
Even after last-minute talks to save the firm failed, City Link was still advertising on its website for “passionate” people who wanted to be their own boss. The firm, owned by multimillionaire Jon Moulton, claimed that drivers could earn £43,000 a year. Phil Valentine, a contractor who has worked for City Link “on and off” for six years and runs six vans, dismissed the £43,000 figure. Once a driver paid for fuel, insurance and a weekly charge for a van, earnings would be more like £28,000 a year. Another worker named Baginton said: “Gross-wise it looks good, but net-wise you are probably looking at around half of that £43,000” Officially self-employed, he paid his own taxes and national insurance. Work started at 4.30 in the morning and sometimes didn’t finish until 7.30 at night.
Other examples of exploitation include holidays as it was often hard to find a replacement driver. “If we have two weeks’ holiday, it will take us two months to recover. It is a double whammy. First because you lose your wages and second because you have to pay someone else to do your job.”
Illness was an even bigger problem. Last year, City Link docked him £75 for missing a morning’s work after he came down with food poisoning. “I rang in sick the night before and I said I didn’t feel well. They rang throughout the morning and asked ‘where are you?’” He went in at lunchtime, still feeling unwell, but found out a week later he had been fined. “I asked my boss: ‘What’s this charge for?’ And he said it would have been £150 if I had missed the whole day. So I had gone in sick and I had basically worked for free.“Before Christmas I had a chest infection for two weeks and my wife was saying I should stay at home. But you can’t. You have it at the back of your mind: ‘I am going to get charged.’”
These City Link contract drivers represent only a tiny part of the army of self employed labour that has flourished during the recession. Around 4.6 million people are self-employed in the UK, 15% of the working population, the highest proportion for 40 years. Delivery workers are not counted separately in the statistics, but there is little doubt their numbers have grown as Britons have embraced online shopping. Around 1.7bn parcels were delivered in the UK in 2012, up from 1.3bn in 2005. However with this upsurge in demand we have seen an upsurge in competition with mega companies such as Amazon deciding to throw their own hat into the delivery ring. As such, companies are increasingly trying to cut expenses and it is the self employed contractors who are being squeezed.
Self-employed contracts are playing a major part in the so-called economic revival. However under such contracts, worker rights and access to legal protection are minimised if not removed altogether. The sad story of the City Link workforce is yet another example of this compassionless capitalism. We are consistently hearing stories of millionaire owners out to make a quick profit with little or no regard for the workers that are effected most by a company’s survival. That this announcement was made on Christmas Eve is possibly the most glaring example yet of exactly how far detached these vultures are from those hard working people who are at the coalface of this economic recovery.
By Owen Jones.
Original article can be found on the link below.