A Look At NZ Courier’s Working Conditions

While many see the courier quotes associated with a delivery, not many see the conditions the couriers go through.

In New Zealand, the pay and working conditions of the many independent contractor couriers in the country have been under scrutiny following extensive coverage on Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint drew attention to the long work hours and, in some cases, bad returns. Now, NZ’s First Union is readying a test case for the Employment Court in order to deal with what it considers as a huge power imbalance in contractual deals.

According to the test case, courier driver earnings, in spite of changes to courier quotes, dip below minimum wage, and their working conditions are such that they should be counted as employees, with the associated benefits of sick leave and holiday pay.

Professional drivers’ advocacy group Pro Drive, representing the owner-operators, took a look at the earnings of 20 Freight ways contractors in June in 2017 and found that, on average, the drivers worked 2800 hours annually and received about $63,000 of which $33,000 going to costs. Taking this into account, the average hourly rate sits at $11 before income tax or depreciation, which is $5.50 an hour less than the minimum wage.

ProDrive CEO Pete Gallagher states that a more recent re-analysis of a smaller group noted that conditions improved, with average incomes going up to around $68,000, but states that they haven’t yet seen a driver who’s earning minimum wage. He describes them as the working poor, the issue as an industry-wide problem.

They point towards working conditions where couriers have to report whenever they stop, just to eat or go to the bathroom, which are similar to the level of oversight actual corporate employees do, except with more travelling and physical labour. Of course, couriers don’t get as many benefits as normal employees do, and while the conditions have improved, ProDrive still urges couriers in the country to fight for more rights and better working conditions.

There have, however, been criticism against ProDrive’s crusade, with some questioning that, if the couriers really do earn less than minimum age, how come there are thousands in the profession.

Regardless, the NZ Government, according to Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway, has plans to improve the rights of the independent contractors operating in the country and will start to investigate possible changes to current policy early in 2019.

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