‘I’m not after the money. I’m after the system to be corrected,’ says the driver fighting to bring change to 500 courier drivers’ futures.
While NZ Post celebrated a record-breaking year, courier driver Asneil Kumar and his colleagues felt the brunt of Kiwis’ pent up spending.
Last year was one of the busiest years in Kumar’s 13-year career he says. Drivers helped NZ Post deliver a $27 million profit after tax in the six months to December in large part due to a “record-breaking” Christmas period.
In its interim financial report published in February this year, NZ Post boasts about its “agents” delivering six parcels a second in the lead-up to Christmas, and 85 million parcels overall last year.
At one of the peak times last year, coming out of Covid lockdown, Kumar was delivering on average 330 parcels a day. Now it’s about 230 to 250 parcels.
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“Before Covid, everything was firm and nice. When Covid came the number of parcels just hit it out towards the sky,” Kumar says.
“We were delivering couriers without breaks. The company tells you to take a break but they run you in such a system, you can’t take a break.”
His hours are long. Most days, Kumar gets to the depot around 6.30am for a 7am start, and is done for the day by 6pm.
“They’re asking us to leave no later than 7am and it can’t happen because we have so many parcels to sort out. When you ask them for more time they say ‘You’ve got to sort it out, it’s your business’. It’s not our business. We can’t expand it, we can’t even sell it.”
This is why Kumar is taking NZ Post to court next week.
His union, E tū, initially lodged a group action in the Employment Court three months ago, seeking a decision on whether courier drivers are employees, and for the right to have collective bargaining.
Employees have entitlements such as sick leave, minimum wages, holiday pay and can take personal grievances against their employers. Contractors don’t have these rights and are considered self-employed.
However, after facing a number of delays and adjournments due to NZ Posts’ lawyers requesting files on every courier driver involved in the case, E tū has decided to represent Kumar as a representative case rather than a class action.
New Zealand doesn’t have a statutory class action regime; our legal system supports representative action that allows proceedings by one person on behalf of people with a shared interest in the subject matter of the case. While the courts allow class actions, the process is slow, and expensive.
E tū national industry organiser Joe Gallagher claims NZ Post has been trying to stall the case.
“They’ve been pushing back really hard on us, trying to get the court case adjourned and stall it, right up until this week. I’m a bit disappointed for a state-owned enterprise to be pushing back so hard like this,” Gallagher says.
“They’ve challenged the amount of couriers that we had so we’re now focused on [Kumar], who is prepared to stand up.”
In a written statement, an NZ Post spokeswoman told Newsroom “the hearing is scheduled to go ahead next week, however we are unable to provide any comment on this specific case while it is with the court.”
A ruling in Kumar’s favour could have an impact on 500 other drivers.
Last year a similar case was heard at the Employment Court – Leota vs Parcel Express Limited. The court found Mika Leota, a courier driver, was an employee of Parcel Express despite working under an independent contractor agreement because of the high level of control they had over him.
Chief Judge Christina Inglis says in her judgment that despite being described as “his own boss”, Leota did not “exercise any real degree of autonomy over his work with Parcel Express”.
“Rather, Parcel Express exercised a significant degree of direction and control over Mr Leota’s day-to-day work – what, when, where, how and by whom,” Judge Inglis says.
Kumar says he has had to buy and insure his own van that complied with NZ Post’s specifications, pay for the decals, uniform and scanner.
Drivers earn per parcel in addition to a guaranteed payment of about $350 plus GST, Kumar says.
But NZ Post recently changed its pay model in July splitting pay by density, low, medium and high.
Drivers on low density runs, usually further away from the depot, earned 55 percent of the floor rate as the minimum plus per parcel, medium density earned 37 percent of the floor rate plus parcels and high density drivers did not earn a floor rate, they only earned per parcel.
He says NZ Post dropped the price per parcel for high density drivers that had large pick ups from a single pick up point, which meant drivers could not control the profit they made.
Kumar says Leota’s case did not influence him to take on NZ Post, it was the frustration of how drivers have been treated by the various courier companies he has worked for over the past decade.
“I’m just sick and tired of the same system. So someone’s gotta take a stand for a better future. I’m not after the money, I’m after the system to be corrected.”
“I’m a bit disappointed for a state-owned enterprise to be pushing back so hard like this.”
– Joe Gallagher, E tū.
Meanwhile, NZ Post reported a $6 million profit last year fuelled by online shopping amid lockdowns, a huge turnaround from its $121m loss the previous year.
The Government has created a tripartite working group with Business NZ, the Council of Trade Unions, to better protect the rights of contractors.
Last week the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment put out a call to courier drivers to come forward if they believe they have been misclassified as a contractor, instead of an employee.
Labour Inspectorate manager Callum McMillan says despite the issue being covered in the media, not enough people have taken this up with MBIE.
“It can be quite grey in some operations, because they may meet the requirements of employee and contractor,” McMillan says.
When considering whether a courier driver was an employee or contractor the Labour Inspectorate would consider the degree of control exerted by the company, how integrated the person is in the organisation or whether they are operating on their own account.
“That looks at things like whether they have to provide their own equipment, what financial risk they can take on whether they have the option to profit from the work they take on,” McMillan says.
But Gallagher says many courier drivers are afraid to raise the issue.
“A lot of these guys are migrants and they’re terrified that they might be outed by the Labour Inspectorate to their boss.
“Even if you end up going to the Labour Inspectorate, that process is long and complicated. I don’t mean to be unkind about it but I don’t think the Labour Inspectorate has any teeth.”