A major parcel delivery firm has faced criticism after it emerged that couriers who cannot find cover, if they have to take a day off sick, face charges of up to £250.
Details of the policy being applied by Parcelforce emerged earlier this week, amid renewed concerns about the working conditions confronting workers employed in the so-called gig economy.
Around one in four of the firm’s delivery drivers are self-employed, which means they are paid per delivery and must fund their vehicle, fuel and insurance out of their own pocket.
Most controversial are the charges imposed if a member of staff is unable to arrange cover for their own sick leave.
Given that a worker typically earns £200 for a 12 hour shift, a day’s illness could cost an individual a total of £450.
“We all hate it,” one courier told The Guardian. “My colleague handed in his notice after being told he was being fined £750 for being off sick for three days.
“If we’re off sick, we don’t get any payment at all but we still have the same costs, apart from fuel.”
Frank Field MP, who chairs Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee, said: “It almost looks as though some companies are now engaged in a bidding war, to see who can slap the biggest penalty on workers who are sick.
“Again it goes to show how badly we need a national minimum level of decency to be enforced in the gig economy, alongside a National Living Wage, so that workers aren’t ripped off by the companies they work with.”
A Parcelforce spokesman said: “Many owner-drivers do not actually do the route themselves, but employ someone to do it for them. Self-employed owner-drivers agree to cover the cost of fulfilling their routes if they are unable to do it themselves and are unable to provide cover.”
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