Workers Notes

When the postman calls

by New Worker correspondent

WHEN THE postman (or woman) comes calling it is as plain as a pikestaff that they are an employee of the Royal Mail. Surprisingly this is not always the case with other delivery personnel. Despite driving vans emblazoned with the company logo and wearing a company uniform and getting you to sign for delivery many of these workers are not regarded as employees, but are falsely deemed self-employed.

Fake self-employment, known as ‘The Lump’ has long been common in the building trade but it has now spread across the economy. This was the bugbear of the construction unions who strongly opposed it but it continued because many workers were willing to accept it as they got cash in hand with no deductions for tax. That any modest short term gains were far outweighed by the long term disadvantages was ignored by many workers. The GMB union has been active in the struggle against this form of exploitation. This week it announced it was taking legal action against three delivery companies used by predatory retailing giant Amazon. While inside the warehouse low pay, long hours and strict targets are the norm the same happens outside.

In the strict legal sense self-employed workers are those running their own small business. They can have several customers at one time and can set their own hours of work. None of this applies to delivery workers. Delivery drivers work to very strict schedules and cannot decide to work just for a few hours in the evening as some taxi drivers do.

GMB stresses that “The drivers were required to attend scheduled shifts that were controlled by Amazon, meaning they did not have the flexibility that is integral to being self-employed” leading the union to demand that “they should be treated as employees in terms of their rights too.”

Their lawyers Leigh Day, say that out of the seven drivers two had been sacked for whistleblowing about excessive hours. One driver told of leaving the home at 6 am and not returning until 11pm. He also reported having £1 deducted for each undelivered parcel and told to complete rounds even when “half asleep at the wheel” to get paid.

GMB’s general secretary, Tim Roache, said: “Guaranteed hours, holiday pay, sick pay, pension contributions are not privileges companies can dish out when they fancy. They are the legal right of all UK workers, and that’s what we’re asking the courts to rule on.” Amazon claims that all the firms it hires for courier work are contractually obligated to pay a minimum of £12 an hour and obey all the laws and driving regulations.

Another delivery company, Hermes, which delivers packages for major retailers such as Next and John Lewis, has been involved in a similar dispute. Topshop and River Island, began a legal battle with eight of its own drivers. Another delivery firm DPD was forced to accede to claims for drivers to receive sick pay and holiday pay only after the death of a driver whom it charged for attending a medical appointment. Even Charles Dickens never had to put up with that at his Blacking Factory.

GMB claims that that its recent victories over rogue taxi firm Uber will set the precedent for its present fight with Amazon and similar companies. It is also currently involved in ongoing legal action against Deliveroo, Addison Lee and CityLink. Deliveroo, which makes it money by ferrying pizzas to people too lazy to walk to the takeaway, is notorious for employing desperate young people who have to use their own bicycles and get charged £150 deposit for the box and jacket. Some riders find it easy money at first, but whenever Deliveroo is established in a town it soon recruits far more riders than required resulting in many waiting in queues for work outside restaurants to which their smartphones had summoned them. As a result riders spend ages hanging around without payment because they are paid by delivery.

Meeting people in Essex

by New Worker correspondent

INDUCED apathy among working people conditioned into accepting their lot and tolerating the injustices of capitalist society without the knowledge or the will to struggle can make political campaigning a difficult exercise. To overcome people’s reluctance to become involved, or committed by attending public meetings, comrades in Essex take their message on to the streets. Members of the Mid Essex Left Unity Group (MELU), hand out leaflets on a regular basis and discuss issues face to face.

Mid Essex is not renowned for its progressive outlook with many people caught up in the rat-race for survival. It was decided that if they would not come to us we would go to them. We are able to hand out our punchy, new easy to read leaflet, printed by the New Worker, that explains how individuals can make a difference. We are also able to engage and discuss people’s problems while explaining the need for a class struggle.

MELU has members that includes communists, socialists, trade unionists and others who are committed to building a fair and just society. Local issues such as bus services and access for those disabled along with national concerns are discussed, we are able to explain why we believe austerity is a con and show that the first step forward is to support and vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

While on the streets members meet the homeless with their daily struggle for survival. We encounter those suffering the injustices of capitalist society and who may have been sanctioned. In a number of cases we are able to refer them to Unite’s Community branch for assistance. Recently a homeless lady told us that her landlord had sold the property and terminated her lease. When she tried to rent another home she had no money for a deposit so was unable to find shelter. She was declared intentionally homeless and sanctioned!

There is an urgent need for young people to become involved in the class struggle. Our strategy for awareness aims to target a new generation of younger people to enable them to carry on the class struggl . We intend to speak to students and learn their views.

Noticeable by their absence when campaigning on the streets are Trotskyists. Their usually vocal members are apparently more concerned with ‘taking power’ and campaigning against the ideas of Stalin.

Fire in the house

by New Worker correspondent

ACROSS Britain fire services are in a state of crisis and Scotland is no exception. According to Scotland’s Auditor General the fire service requires an extra £389 million to prevent engines and buildings falling into a state of disrepair.

The bean-counters claim that “To bring its property, vehicles and other assets across Scotland up to a minimum satisfactory condition and maintain them over the next ten years, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) requires an average annual investment of £80.4 million”. The Auditor General also said it was “imperative” that the service reviewed and reshaped its capital assets, which might mean “closing, moving, sharing or changing the use of some of its properties as well as considering the range and deployment of its fleet of vehicles”. In plain language cuts are required.

Labour’s Holyrood Shadow spokesperson Daniel Johnson said: “The fact that the situation is so bad that fire engines may not even be able to run is a national scandal that could put lives at risk.”

Denise Christie, Scottish regional secretary of the Fire Brigade Union reinforced some of the points, while opposing others. She said a recent official inspection in Glasgow found that fire appliances were dated and cannot always accommodate the full range of firefighting equipment. It also revealed station refurbishments have been put on hold due to financial constraints leaving some in poor condition. She was concerned that a recent SFRS consultation recommended closures of some stations, which “if adopted, would worsen service delivery.” She also deplored the side effects of the Scottish government decision to merge the previous eight forces under local control into one. which reduced, by almost an eighth, the number of women employed.

Across the border similar cuts are taking place. Last Friday Russ King, secretary of the FBU in Tyne and Wear, said: “Never ending budget cuts are leaving the fire service with threadbare resources. Every time we have a major incident from now on fire service resources will pushed to the limit. Lives are being put at risk”, specifically deploring the fact that fire appliances will be crewed with just four firefighters when fire are needed for simple house fires.

He made his warning just after a major fire at a Sunderland recycling plant stretched resources to breaking point. Needing 13 appliances and 48 firefighters the rest of Tyne and Wear was left with only eight fire appliances and 40 firefighters ready to respond to other incidents. Further south Avon Fire & Rescue Service are consulting on plans to cut frontline firefighter jobs and reduce life-saving cover across the Service. The local FBU is opposing cuts which would mean the loss of 49 firefighter jobs, the removal of full time cover at night from a station and cutting a heavy rescue tender which covers the motorway network.

In North Wales the regional FBU is opposing a £2 million budget cut which includes similar job cuts and to close stations and cut hours at others with part-time firefighters. Promising to fight the cuts “tooth and nail FBU Regional Secretary Cerith warned “The cuts being considered are nothing short of apocalyptic for the fire service in North Wales. Even the chief fire officer has warned that any further cuts would put firefighters and public safety at risk”.

“Last August a person was killed in a house fire because crews had to travel further than normal to respond to the incident. This is exactly the scenario that will become more common if these cuts are given the go ahead. The FBU does not want this to become the new normal in Wales. We will fight every single of these dangerous proposals.”