“Levelling Up” the Parcels Delivery Market


The CWU has long been concerned that exploitation is rife amongst parcel delivery drivers. Outside of the Royal Mail Group, the vast majority of workers are bogusly self-employed. They’ve no access to the minimum wage, sick pay or holiday pay and drivers are often mistreated at the hands of their employers.

CWU analysis shows that parcel delivery drivers rank as one of the fastest growing self-employed occupations over the past decade. A trend that has undoubtedly been turbocharged by the pandemic. Yet, very little is known about the condition of these drivers. Most government datasets do not collect detailed information on the self-employed and companies are under no obligation to publish pay rates or numbers of drivers that are “self-employed” on their behalf. Towards the end of 2021, the CWU ran a survey and conducted a number of interviews with self-employed drivers to help understand the problems facing workers in this sector.

Our report found that self-employed drivers face a number of extreme pressures. Self-employed drivers reported lower incomes than their employed counterparts, were more likely to say their earnings were not enough to keep up with the basic cost of living (over half of self-employed drivers) and felt they were treated unfairly at work (10% of self-employed drivers responded being treated fairly against over 40% of employed drivers).

Drivers also routinely highlighted unilateral cuts to their pay, broken promises by management, unfair dismissals in their workplace and blatant disregard for drivers’ wellbeing. CWU interviewees told horror stories of working through broken bones or the deaths of close family members. It is clear from our research that many of the tensions self-employed drivers face is a function of their employment status. For instance, drivers noted that only being paid per delivery forced them to drive recklessly to try and maximise earnings.

While self-employed drivers rated their work as more flexible, there was support for wider wholesale changes at work. Self-employed drivers overwhelmingly wanted to see sick pay from day one (70% of respondents), pensions (70%), holiday pay (75%) and a right to guaranteed weekly hours (59%). It is clear to the CWU, however, that recent interventions on behalf of drivers have not been as effective as hoped. The introduction of “Self-Employed Plus’ contracts at Hermes has led to significant confusion amongst drivers and is indicative of a deal that has not been shaped by workers themselves.

The report makes a number of recommendations to government and Ofcom as well as a number of actions for the CWU to take moving forward. Undoubtedly working alongside other unions will be key to prevent a further race to the bottom on labour standards in the sector. The CWU also wants to work with parcel delivery drivers to scope a membership deal that will enable us to collectively improve working conditions and pay. This is what levelling up could and should look like.