Empowering the Freelance Economy

Delivery boom or doom: Couriers are hiring in the thousands, but at what cost to self-employed drivers and the sector’s ESG reputation?

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The courier business is booming and not just for those making the deliveries, but those serving the sector, such as the back-office software that makes the supply chain and delivery process tick over, such as Metapack, who is hiring.

But if the courier sector’s reputation for poor worker conditions gets tarnished any more than it has, investors, companies and customers could soon select their couriers based on how well they treat their workers and self-employed couriers. Companies, that develop courier apps may be obliged to add this crucial information via a rating system at some point as part of a larger ESG protocol.

Hermes is taking on 9,000 new self-employed couriers, who can opt into holiday pay contracts negotiated with the GMB union. But following a recent Hermes whistleblower claiming that Hermes staff in Plymouth spent hours packing parcels into their vehicles in the wind and rain, leaving both the packages and delivery drivers soaked, one must ask if the courier sector is still willing to take short cuts and risk its reputation with shareholders and the people they contract to work on their behalf? Do couriers and large online retailers with their in-house drivers need to get their houses in order?

Parliamentary enquiry

The GMB Union, which represents all workers regardless of sector, is calling for a parliamentary inquiry into ‘dehumanising’ working conditions at Amazon warehouses as the company enjoys mammoth Black Friday sales.

GMB has projected a huge ‘Make Amazon Pay’ banner on the online giant’s London HQ as part of the Black Friday protests.

“Amazon is well known for unsafe, dehumanising work practices which see our members break bones, fall unconscious and have to be taken away in ambulances,” said Mick Rix, GMB National Officer, in a statement.

“They pay a pittance in tax while taking millions from the taxpayer in lucrative Government contracts. Now, during a pandemic which has made the world’s richest man even more money, they’ve been packing workers into warehouses like sardines in a tin.

“Enough is enough. It’s time to curb the power of this monstrous company. It is high time this Government heeded the growing chorus and held a parliamentary inquiry into Amazon’s activities,” said Rix.

What is it like to be a self-employed courier?

While the courier market has been a beacon of hope for the jobless that were previously working in sectors hit hard by the COVID pandemic, including hospitality, aviation, retail and the arts, a driver could have up to 200 parcels to delivery in any one day, at anything between say £0.50 pence up to £1 per package delivered.

This does not include petrol or vehicle insurance costs for those self-employed couriers. Couriers in rural areas have to take the additional mileage between deliveries into account, time not paid during pickup of the parcels at the depot, organising them in the vehicle, and travel time. As a self-employed courier service, you can offset any expenses such as petrol, vehicle costs and insurance against your profit so you only pay tax on profit (income – claimable expenses).

Courier work is not for the faint-hearted. It is worth reading reviews on sites, such as Indeed and Glassdoor before applying.

One anonymous reviewer of Yodel, said the following on Indeed: “Yodel’s organisation and communication are the worst I have ever encountered; nobody knows what is going on. Constantly having to call about issues. Pay is a pittance at 65p a parcel and loads of rural properties my tour was about 65miles. App is useless doesn’t take into account long term road closures. You would be better flipping burgers and it would be better for your sanity.. Also paid more not just by a little either.. these owner-driver delivery jobs need to be regulated I earned way less than minimum wage.”

Others on Indeed complained that they had not received back pay and another said issues were coming from the agency side.

Who’s hiring?

In addition to Hermes’ impressive self-employed driver recruitment drive, recruitment agency, Manpower, has placed 3,000 new drivers in the last few months, with an estimated 30% turning to driving because of the pandemic, according to a report from The Guardian.

Jason Greaves, Manpower’s brand leader, said: “This year, entrants to the driving labour market are from a much broader range of sectors than normal; former cabin crew, publicans, live music support crew to name just a few.”

Delivery firm Yodel has recruited 2,950 drivers and seen a 200% increase in applications for its seasonal jobs.


If the courier business is something you want to venture into, make sure you do your homework, which could mean asking the next courier that delivers a package to your house their honest take on being a self-employed courier. Just don’t take up too much of their time- they’re on the clock.

If you are a self-employed courier you can always consider employing a working-age child or spouse to give a hand with in-vehicle sorting, address navigation, deliveries and driving to ease the load and make the process much quicker, which means more packages delivered. But that is completely up to you, your partner or kid.


Is it time the courier business got an environmental, social and governance overhaul? Leave your comments below or share this story on social media.

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