UK Mail charged in­jured driver £800 for call­ing in sick

The Guardian - - FRONT PAGE - Robert Booth

The de­liv­ery com­pany UK Mail has been ac­cused of “rip­ping off” work­ers and “in­hu­man” prac­tices af­ter it charged a courier nearly £800 when he was un­able to work as a re­sult of a car ac­ci­dent while on duty.

The £250m busi­ness, which de­liv­ers for re­tail­ers in­clud­ing Tesco, Home­base and O2, billed 47-year-old Emil Ibrahi­mov £216 on the days that he could not work af­ter a car drove into him while he was car­ry­ing parcels from the rear of his van in east Lon­don.

In pain and with his leg swollen, he was taken to hos­pi­tal by am­bu­lance and told by doc­tors to rest, and to move only on crutches. But af­ter he told his man­agers he could not work, UK Mail charged him, claim­ing it had to re­coup the cost of find­ing a re­place­ment courier.

Ibrahi­mov said he had lost about £1,800 from tak­ing seven days off sick in the past 12 months, when lost earn­ings and charges were added to­gether. He has now quit.

Ibrahi­mov spoke to the Guardian to high­light a prac­tice that is un­der­stood to ap­ply across UK Mail’s net­work of about 1,800 self-em­ployed couri­ers.

UK Mail made a profit of £16m last year, when it was bought out by the Deutsche Post DHL Group.

The sys­tem of charges is writ­ten into the con­tracts of couri­ers who are paid per de­liv­ery.

UK Mail also charged Ibrahi­mov when a doc­tor signed him off work for two weeks with acute back pain and sci­at­ica, caused by car­ry­ing heavy parcels. He went back to work af­ter two days to avoid losses.

“I took my sick note in and they said it doesn’t mat­ter be­cause I am self­em­ployed,” he said. “They did this to me and they will do it to some­one else to­mor­row, and it is not right.”

The charges emerged amid grow­ing con­cern at the treat­ment of self-em­ployed couri­ers who sup­ply the boom­ing on­line shop­ping trade. The Guardian re­vealed this month that DPD charges driv­ers £150 a day if they can­not find a re­place­ment to cover their round and that Royal Mail’s Parcelforce charges self-em­ployed couri­ers up to £250 a day if they can­not find cover. On Wed­nes­day, couri­ers at DPD’s Ed­in­burgh de­pot staged a walk­out af­ter they were told they needed to work six days a week, and in protest at charges.

Such charges are to be scru­ti­nised by the Down­ing Street-com­mis­sioned re­view into mod­ern em­ploy­ment prac­tices led by Matthew Tay­lor.

Frank Field, chair­man of the Com­mons work and pen­sions se­lect com­mit­tee, said he would press Tay­lor “to look closely at this rip-off prac­tice, which again shows

how the odds are stacked against the low­paid in Bri­tain’s gig econ­omy”.

Tay­lor said: “It is im­por­tant that con­tro­ver­sial prac­tices in the mod­ern labour mar­ket are made vis­i­ble so that we can un­der­stand key chal­lenges we need to ad­dress in our re­view.”

Frances O’Grady, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Trades Union Congress, said UK Mail’s “puni­tive fines” were “a stark ex­am­ple of an em­ployer reap­ing all the ben­e­fits of the gig econ­omy, while the worker bears all the risk”. She added: “Those in low-paid ‘self-em­ploy­ment’ pay a heavy price for fall­ing sick. We need to crack down on bosses who do this.”

When a courier is sick, UK Mail pays them the amount earned by the re­place­ment courier – in Ibrahi­mov’s case, be­tween £24 and £99 a day. But it also charges them what­ever it costs to hire a re­place­ment, which it said was £216 a day. For Ibrahi­mov it meant a net loss of £789 while he re­cov­ered from his work in­jury.

UK Mail de­nied it was rip­ping off work­ers. A spokesman said: “Sub­con­trac­tors are made aware of the com­mer­cial na­ture of the agree­ment from the out­set.

“UK Mail hasn’t prof­ited out of this. They are sim­ply cov­er­ing the cost they have in­curred find­ing cover for rounds.”

Tesco said it was “dis­ap­pointed to hear of the treat­ment of this in­di­vid­ual”, and O2 said it would “speak to UK Mail to un­der­stand more about their busi­ness op­er­a­tions for their self-em­ployed driv­ers”. Home­base de­clined to com­ment.

Ibrahi­mov came to the UK from Azer­bai­jan six years ago and worked for UK Mail for two years, be­ing paid per de­liv­ery stop. He said he typ­i­cally worked five 12-hour days each week which, af­ter ex­penses, earned him less than £7 an hour. The na­tional min­i­mum wage for over-24s is £7.20 but does not ap­ply to self-em­ployed work­ers.

“Ev­ery day they were call­ing, say­ing come to work,” Ibrahi­mov said of the pe­riod af­ter the car ac­ci­dent.

“I would say I couldn’t, and they would say I was go­ing to be charged. So af­ter a few days I had to go back. It was very painful but I had to go. It is in­hu­man be­cause this [the car ac­ci­dent] hap­pened while I was do­ing their job.”

Emil Ibrahi­mov, 47, was billed £216 on the days he could not work af­ter a car drove into him while he was car­ry­ing parcels from the rear of his van

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