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DPD driver dies months after being fined for attending hospital appointment

DM
BY Donald MacKinnon
Employment Law & HR
BG Purple

The working conditions of those in the ‘gig economy’ has been of great debate and controversy in the last year. Not only has there been court cases surrounding their employment status, there has also be a lot of comment about the way this section of the workforce are treated on a day to day basis.

It now appears that the level of controversy is only going to increase following the revelations that Don Lane, a DPD delivery driver who suffered from diabetes, died only months after being fined £150 by the Company for attending a medical appointment. It has also been disclosed that he didn’t attend 3 other appointments as he was afraid of getting fined further. DPD imposed fines on self-employed ‘franchisees’ if they failed to complete a shift or get cover.

As DPD classify their drivers as self-employed, they do not need to pay them sick pay or annual leave. However, as they are self-employed, DPD should not be able to wield control over when and how they work. It appears that workers for DPD have none of benefits that come with being self-employed.  The Company has apologised for imposing the fine in July but deny that he was under pressure not to attend appointments. Matthew Taylor, who was commissioned by the government to undertake a review into modern working practices has stated the following about the case:

“Genuine self-employment provides benefits which compensate for the fact that you don’t have sick pay or consultation rights. The problem with the model that Don Lane was working under is that it looks as though you get very little of the upsides. His experience shows we urgently need to address poor quality work particularly at the bottom of the labour market”

There have been many, including Frances O’Grady of the TUC and Rebecca Long-Bailey, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, who see this as a prime example of employers who are just looking to reduce their own costs and shift the financial burden onto the worker. Labour MP Frank Field, who has been a leading voice in Parliament for reform of the gig economy, has the following to say about the system.

“The incentive for these companies and others to label their workforce as self-employed is the reduction of their own spending with workers bearing more of the employers’ costs and taxpayers yielding lower revenues. This should, so the story goes, be balanced by greater flexibility for the workforce. The reality is somewhat different. Barely a day passes without our post bag containing fresh evidence of the exploitation being meted out to workers in the gig economy”

With the government set to publish its response to the Taylor report this week, it will be interesting to see what they suggest about changing the culture, because it appears that the ‘gig economy’ label in some cases is giving flexibility primarily to employers.

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