Postal workers win concessions after strike

A wildcat strike in the Netherlands was launched by around 80 independent parcel post workers on 25 June 2013 over changes to their pay and conditions. It ended within days when a union stepped in to represent them and negotiate a deal. The strike involved self-employed delivery drivers working for PostNL. The company had wanted to reduce the rates of pay for each parcel delivered. In the end, the plan was dropped and a fixed basic rate for the postal delivery workers was agreed.

Background

A wildcat strike was launched by around 80 independent parcel post workers in the Netherlands on 25 June 2013. The self-employed drivers, known as ZZPs, who work for PostNL, had rejected proposed lower pay rates offered by the postal company for the delivery of each parcel. The drivers had been earning €1.40 for each delivered parcel and PostNL wanted to lower the rate to €0.87.

Rates have been falling steadily, with postal companies citing the fact that the number of parcels for delivery is increasing due to a rise in online trading. But PostNL said it had no intention of taking on more workers – who are dealt with as subcontractors – to deal with this increase. The same numbers of workers were expected to work longer hours at the lower rate.

Fixed rate agreed

After three days of industrial action, PostNL management agreed to drop the plan. The company instead offered a fixed rate of €1,000 a week for the drivers to make between 145 and 155 scheduled stops a day – the equivalent of around 20 parcel deliveries an hour.

Although many of the drivers had no union links, the Allied Industry, Food, Services and Transport Union (FNV Bondgenoten) stepped in to help with the negotiations. The union said it considered the fixed rate of €1,000 as nothing more than a safety net.

Drivers promised ‘no repercussions’

The strike was sparked by PostNL’s decision to cut the rates it paid to the ZZPs. Up until then the drivers, who were expected to drive leased delivery vans, as well as providing their own company logo on the vans and buying their own uniform, had earned what they considered was a living wage.

In addition to the deal on a fixed basic rate for the basic level of performance, the company has also agreed new terms with the drivers on customised services. This was important for the drivers, as providing extra services takes them extra time. There is now even the possibility of compensation of €20 for downtime caused by traffic police checks.

The company has also agreed that:

  • drivers will be provided with uniforms;
  • an independent committee will test whether a driver’s dismissal is justifiable;
  • no strikers will be penalised for their industrial action.

Difficult negotiations

Speaking after the settlement, a spokesperson for PostNL said that negotiations were initially difficult, due to the lack of union representation.

The strike generated widespread interest because several big companies work with ‘pseudo self-employed workers’. This type of worker costs the company less than if they were salaried, but the worker has to settle for lower earnings and less security.

Commentary

According to the director of FNV Bondgenoten, the wildcat strike showed the unions that the subcontractor model had failed and that traditional pay provides the greatest sense of security.

ZZPs are at a disadvantage in any dispute with PostNL because they fear losing their contracts. However, they would be better off with a collective labour agreement.

The strikers all said that, if PostNL were to buy their delivery vans and employ them on a salaried basis, they would immediately sign an employment contract.

A spokesperson for PostNL claimed the company was content with the results. However, it feared many customers would make claims for compensation over undelivered mail, even though the company did not feel it was responsible for the delays.

Marianne Grünell, University of Amsterdam, AIAS/HSI

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