What subcontracting law means for parcel deliverers

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After weeks of debate, the Union and the SPD are finally in agreement: Parcel deliverers should be better protected against exploitation in the future. The coalition committee voted on Tuesday evening after four hours of deliberations for a draft bill. He holds shipping companies such as Hermes, UPS or DHL responsible for ensuring that all those deliverers receive a minimum wage and are covered by social security contributions that are not made directly with them but with a subcontractor. In case of emergency, the service providers should be responsible for unpaid fees and contributions.

With the planned law, the coalition "for contributory justice, the social security of all parcel delivery service and at the same time for a fair competition," says a statement in the coalition round. Also DGB boss Reiner Hoffmann sees in the agreement an important breakthrough. The employers' organizations, on the other hand, criticize the additional burden on the economy. And the Zustellerverband defends itself vehemently against the "blanket condemnation", which is connected with such a law.

But what about the new regulation? What problems should it solve? And where may new ones arise? SPIEGEL ONLINE answers the most important questions:

  • What is in the bill?

First and foremost, the draft stipulates that parcel services should be liable for their subcontractors. For example, if they disregard the statutory minimums when paying their couriers, or if they do not pay social security contributions. So companies like DHL, Hermes, DDP, UPS or GLS should guarantee for correct working conditions. The purpose of the provision is to stem undeclared work and illegal employment.

First and foremost the parcel couriers employed by the subcontractors. The semi-skilled workers are in the hierarchy at the bottom and are often fed with a pittance. The official gross salary was at the end of 2017, according to statistics, although at 2478 euros. In February, however, a large-scale customs inspection brought to light startling insights into the black sheep in the industry. 4.50 euros per hour, zero dismissal protection, no other social security – that was not uncommon. Ver.di boss Frank Bsirske spoke of "partly mafia structures".

But the salary of the tariff employees appears in a different light, if one calculates the working conditions. Because the drivers often have to do a job that can not be done during normal working hours. And preparatory activities, such as packing the car are not counted at working time.

The law now wants to put a stop to the worst excesses.

  • Are there any models for such a regulation?

In the construction industry, the subcontractor liability has been effective for quite a while. There, the main contractor must make sure that his contractors fulfill their obligations to their employees. They can make sure by asking for a certificate from the health insurance. It states that the subcontractor is known to her as a reliable payer. Another possibility is the so-called prequalification certificate. It also contains evidence of the expertise of the employees.

The construction industry has come to terms with the law. The law is interpreted more as a lever to better understand the companies offering their services. "It is important for us to throw black sheep out of the market," said association leader Heribert Jöris of the "Süddeutsche Zeitung".

  • Which problems are connected with the law?

Still the law did not pass instances. It is therefore not yet clear which restrictions and exemptions will take effect in the end. However, it is already clear that companies can be exempted from liability by providing certain proof, such as a certificate of health insurance. Critics argue that exemption from liability could be like a license once it has been granted. Because with the paper, the company concerned again have every opportunity to undermine the rule. "The new law will go nowhere and change nothing," said Andreas Schumann, chairman of the Federal Association of Express courier services, the "world".

The deliverers also defend themselves against the general suspicion associated with the provision. Rashly, many people basically assumed that companies that deal with parcel delivery, violate applicable labor laws, said Association leader Marten Bosselmann. That this is not true, for example, was demonstrated by customs controls at the beginning of February. The investigators had interviewed almost 13,000 drivers, but then only comparatively few procedures were initiated: "In all clearness: Any violation is one too many – but should be respected with a share of 0.2 percent of the principle of proportionality."

Probably the parcel services, which have to reckon with higher personnel costs. In the face of fierce competition, they have few opportunities to recoup the money through higher prices. The conditions dictate major customers such as the Amazon Internet giant, which pays only two euros per package – and extremely unfriendly reacts, if Prime deliveries are not delivered on time. Hermes, with market share number two in the industry, has already announced that it will provide 100 million euros for new jobs and pay surcharges. Already industry insiders suspect that Hermes' profit margin is extremely low – if anything at all remains.

Incidentally, the price pressure on the industry starts with consumers who are unwilling to make decent payments. It goes so far that it is cheaper in many places, to order a pair of shoes online, than to solve the bus ticket for the ride into the city.

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