‘Insulting’: How insufficient fuel aid can force couriers out of work | Gasoline prices
Nicolas, a 36-year-old courier based in a small town in Suffolk, began to think of the unthinkable: soaring fuel prices could soon force him out of work.
Nicolas (he asked not to use his last name) is part of an army of 18,000 freelance drivers who work for Evri, the company formerly known as Hermès, which is desperate for more financial help to ensure that parcel delivery is a viable medium. earn a living.
But Nicolas says the private equity firm, for which he has delivered since 2016, does not recognize the value couriers bring. On Thursday, Evri reached a deal with drivers and the GMB union over fuel allowance that has been called “insulting” by some.
“It’s not just a job, you’re part of the community,” said Nicolas, who visits around 75 households a day. “I’ve seen babies grow up and go to school, families grow, attend client funerals, be invited to a wedding. During the pandemic, I was sometimes the only person seniors saw for weeks.
But Nicolas said he fears soaring fuel prices will force him out of his job. He now spends around £240 a month to fill up his tank, he said, compared to around £180 before the war in Ukraine, but can only recover between £8 and £12 on fuel a month.
“I started to use credit [to buy fuel], going into more debt just to be able to work,” said Nicolas. “I don’t see how that changes things.
As fuel costs rise, Evri said many independent couriers will receive between 35p and 75p a day depending on the delivery radius – which the company says averages 2.3 pa mile – retroactive to the March 26. This means that someone working five days a week on the maximum radius would receive £3.75 a week, or £15 every four weeks, for fuel. It replaces a package earlier this month worth just under 2p per mile.
“My reaction is shock [and] total disappointment, I feel discouraged and disrespected,” said Amy, a 43-year-old courier for eight years based in Worcestershire, who also asked the Guardian not to publish her last name for fear of losing her job. “It really makes me want to go out and find a company that shows a little more empathy.”
Fuel prices have hit record highs in recent weeks, pushed higher by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and attempts by the West to wean itself off Russian oil. Last week the average cost of a liter of petrol on UK forecourts was 167.3p, according to data firm Experian Catalist, while diesel was 179.7p. Although Chancellor Rishi Sunak has cut fuel tax by 5p, many complain that the cut is not being fully passed on.
Further fuel price hikes are expected, increasing pressure on courier drivers who are often on on-demand economy contracts and lack the security of full-time employees.
A GMB organizer admitted the package was not perfect, but said the allowances were a “step in the right direction”. “It’s a helping hand – it’s not huge sums, but it’s at least more than just a company token,” said Steve Garelick, GMB Country Manager for Evri, who helped set up negotiate the deal.
Garelick added that Evri had no legal obligation to offer a fuel allowance to couriers in its “self-employed plus” category and acknowledged their willingness to “do the right thing”.
“We always want more,” he said. “But we started from zero.” He hailed real progress in the GMB-Evri negotiations, which brought money into the pockets of smugglers.
Earlier this month Evri proposed a fuel allowance scheme of just under 2p per mile – between 30 and 40p per day, which has been attacked by couriers – which Thursday’s deal replaces with immediate effect. Other companies, such as Amazon, offer more generous fuel allowances of over 21p per mile in some cases.
The row underscores the precarious nature of work in the gig economy, particularly driving couriers, which has exploded during the pandemic amid a surge in online shopping.
Hermes Parcelnet posted a pre-tax profit of £131m in the year to February 2021, more than tripled the £43million the previous year, as parcels surged during the pandemic. Revenue was nearly £1.5bn for the year to February 2021, a jump of around 70% from £860m the previous year. The highest-paid director received an aggregate pay of over £600,000 last year.
In 2020, US private equity group Advent International partnered with management to acquire a 75% stake in what was then called Hermes UK. Advent, which bought defense firm Cobham in 2019, renamed Hermes last month, after coming under fire for mismanagement of packages.
James, a 63-year-old courier from Northamptonshire who joined Evri more than two years ago, said he was spending around £45 a month on fuel last year, but since the invasion of Ukraine by the Russia it climbed to around £65. “The fuel situation is terrible,” said James, who withheld his last name for fear his role could be terminated.
He said the low fuel allowance is another example of the company not valuing its couriers for what can be physically demanding work. “At the end of the week, I really feel it,” said James, who took medication for a heart attack a few years ago.
A spokesperson for Evri said: “As part of its ongoing review with the GMB union to support couriers following the latest fuel price spike, Evri today announced new payments which…amount at 2.3 pence per mile on average.”
The allowance is structured in four tiers: 35 pence per day (for couriers with an average delivery radius of less than 1 square mile); 50p (1-5 square miles); 65p (5-20 square miles): and 75p (more than 20 square miles).
Evri’s spokesperson added that it gives couriers access to the best fuel cards and will continue to review fuel prices regularly with GMB to ensure people are getting the “national living wage”. “.
But many couriers are unhappy. “It’s insulting, it’s like a slap in the face,” said Nicola, a 40-year-old courier from South Yorkshire.
Nicola said she had worked as a courier for 12 years. “It takes years to accumulate experience — knowing which customers want packages left in their sheds, their greenhouses, at the backdoor,” she said.
“I really don’t want to quit this job, but I can’t make ends meet.”