Working for free

Image from the Guardian article

Nobody should work for free. Oh but wait on, I do, at times. 

The whole issue of remuneration has come to light again during the COVID crisis with the enormous rise in distribution jobs. Nearly all businesses moved their trade online, at least in some format almost overnight and this has led to a downturn in protection for workers’ rights. I doubt it was a planned dilution but rather a pent up demand in the system that was released by the sudden rise in sales.

I have used the word distribution in its widest sense to include taxi drivers, van drivers and delivery cyclists. Over the last year we have seen many incidents where this group of people have been taken for, how can I put it, a ride.

We’ve seen successful arguments in court as to whether Uber drivers are employed or not, deciding if they were entitled to holiday pay and pensions etc. We’ve heard about Amazon delivery drivers having to urinate in bottles in order to meet their impossible delivery schedules and we have read how Deliveroo drivers can, at times, receive as little as £2 per hour in pay.

I read another story, in the Guardian, claiming that some Hermes drivers were working for free for hours a day. Due to the unprecedented demand and the difficulty in recruiting enough people to work in their depots, ‘couriers say they feel compelled to ‘muck in’ with [the] parcel sorting process.’ Is this wrong?

In this instance I would say yes, in that, as the work was created by paid for demand and the company must have had a budget to pay for its undercruited staff then the money was available yet not all examples are the same. There are times, such as during an IT failure or a fire where it is not possible to measure exactly who was at work or indeed what work was. Also some people are able to and happy to provide some of their labour for free whereas others are not. Should it be down to personal choice?

OK, nobody should be forced to work for free, that is slavery but it is a very grey area around when work starts and stops. It is an area that needs legislation though it is going to be a hard problem to unravel. I’m not sure there is much political appetite to sort it out.

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