PUBLISHED: 15:00 10 October 2019 | UPDATED: 15:12 10 October 2019
Veteran film-maker Ken Loach has come out in support of striking Royal Mail couriers at the Whitechapel eCourier headquarters over their working status.
The social issues movie director who made classic 1960s documentaries on poverty and homelessness, such as Poor Cow and Cathy Come Home, was unable to join the demonstration in Whitechapel Road.
But he sent a live message which was relayed over a loud-speaker to the 50 protesting couriers at a street rally organised by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain.
The eCourier same-day service classifies couriers as independent contractors with no minimum wage or holiday pay, the union claims.
“The reality is that you are ’employed’,” Roach told the strikers. “Your contract should give security that allows you to pay the bills and know the wage that’s coming in.
“Privatisation means companies are cutting labour costs by making people work harder for less money.”
His latest film, Sorry We Missed You, due out on November 1, chronicles the life of a “gig economy” driver and a rising tide of exploitation.
Royal Mail refuses to negotiate on the London Living Wage or holiday pay, the union says. Some couriers are having to pay a weekly £6 charge to use the scanning device, on top of vehicle costs such as fuel, insurance, breakdown cover and equipment, with van drivers forking out £200 a week to work for eCourier.
Union vice president Max Dewhurst, a courier himself, said: “We have now been pushed to the brink and won’t be bullied into silence.
“No low-paid worker makes the sacrifice of risking going toe-to-toe with a multi-million pound corporation unless pushed to the brink.”
Royal Mail says it is operating best ways “in terms of modern working practices and the most appropriate delivery models” with many couriers preferring to work independently because of “additional flexibility”.
An eCourier spokesman said: “We have offered ‘worker’ status to 25 self-employed over the past 12 months where it reflects their actual working arrangements and where they decide to make the change. We are now in discussions with another 36 couriers about offering ‘worker’ status.”
But the union which wants “a living wage” claims those that were moved to ‘worker’ contracts have effectively had pay cuts.