Conditions at Yodel: report by a worker

Workers in the logistics industry are being sweated at ever-more intense and unendurable rates.

Proletarian writers

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Yodel drivers are regularly assigned 50-100 drops a day, taking 7-8 hours to accomplish on top of the 2-3 hours spent at the depot preparing for a run.

Proletarian writers

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Yodel is one of the major delivery companies in the logistics industry competing with the likes of DPD, DHL and UPS. It has been considered one of the worst delivery companies in the country, not only by its customers but also by its workers.

The turnover of new workers at the company is abnormally high. At one of its smaller warehouses, 30 workers have come and gone from the job in the last 12 months. To put this in context, the warehouse only employs 40 people in total. In the last five months, 11 delivery drivers have left the job for better paying work in better conditions. Conditions at other Yodel’s three main hubs and bigger warehouses are even worse.

Health and safety is routinely ignored by the company. Spilled liquids (such as wine and beer) and broken items are often left alone until the end of the shift or until somebody who is not busy working (such as a manager in one reported case) decides to clean it up.

Parcels weighing 30kg or more are handled by a single person, even when they have team lift warnings printed on the outside. Taking the time and manpower to lift safely is seen as an unnecessary waste of time at Yodel. Workers regularly injure themselves in carrying out such unsafe tasks. Many leave the job entirely as a result of damaged backs and other such work-related injuries.

Drivers are under strict time constraints. Our readers may have seen delivery drivers for Yodel, DPD, DHL etc speeding and driving dangerously. In fact, they don’t have much choice about this. The pressure to deliver within a certain time window is immense, and any delay is considered ‘unjustified’ except in extreme circumstances such as road closures etc.

As a result, a high percentage of delivery drivers have caused or been involved in road accidents. Drivers are often very tired, having already spent hours sorting through the parcels before the delivery round begins.

The company’s warehouses and hubs are run with an absolute bare minimum of staff. One Yodel warehouse was reported as having five sorters (unloading/loading and sorting parcels), handling over 4,000 parcels in six hours. There are usually about 50 tons of volume in their warehouse, or around 15-20 tons of volume per artic lorry, where a single worker is usually expected to unload the entire trailer alone.

The absence of even one sorter can throw the day’s operation into a disorganised mess, greatly adding to the stress under which the workers are already labouring.

An example might help the reader get a little sense of how all this works: Warehouse A receives three artics in six hours: one from Shaw hub at 4.00am, one from Wednesbury hub at 5.00am, and one from Hatfield hub at 6.00am.

All three artics have had to leave their hubs at a precise time and reach the warehouse in question at another precise time in order to unload a cargo of parcels that is due for delivery within the next 12 hours. Failure to do so not only throws that day’s operation into disarray but can also have a knock-on effect over several succeeding days.

Any delay in the logistics of companies such as Yodel, DPD, DHL etc, is catastrophic to the way they run their operations. Their operations are to the point and exact, with no room for error or delay. This is, of course, a very arbitrary and illogical way to run a reliable logistics and delivery service, but it does maximise the profits and minimise the expenditure for the employers, which is exactly why they do it.

The unions that operate to some extent amongst Yodel’s workforce (GMB, Unite and Usdaw) are officially recognised by the employers. These unions have deals with Yodel to keep the peace.

Expressing interest in becoming a shop steward, one warehouse worker we interviewed was told by his regional GMB representative: “We are not looking for fire-starters; we do not want to go on strike. We would prefer it if you resolved issues in house with your management before having to come to the union to resolve it.” Comment would be superfluous.

Another worker at the same warehouse was recently sent on the back of an artic trailer to assist in the unloading of 15 tons of parcels, as the worker who was meant to be unloading it had slowed down. The newcomer found his fellow worker leaned up against the trailer wall in a puddle of sweat, too exhausted to lift a parcel. Together, they finished unloading the trailer and less than two minutes after sending the artic on its way, the exhausted worker was found collapsed by the bay doors.

Management scrambled in an effort at damage limitation. The ambulance arrived minutes later and the collapsed worker was carted off to hospital with dehydration and exhaustion from the stress of overwork. This is hardly surprising when we consider that a single worker is expected to unload 15-25 tons of freight in a 60-90 minute window.

Meanwhile, during non-peak periods, the drivers are regularly assigned 50-100 drops a day. This workload alone can take 7-8 hours to accomplish, and that’s on top of the 2-3 hours spent at the depot preparing for a run. It is common for a driver to start work at 7.00am and not finish until 6.00pm or even 9.00pm.

Now imagine what happens at peak periods such as Black Friday or Christmas, when drivers are typically assigned 60-120 drops a day. No wonder staff at one warehouse report losing 30 of their fellow workers in the last year as a result of this unendurable pressure.

As we have already pointed out, the short-term, timed-to-the-minute planning, is all aimed at saving money. “Why pay for someone to be in the warehouse from 1.00pm-10.00pm when we know, if everything runs on time, that we could pay them to start at 3.00pm instead?” “Why pay for two workers when one can do the job?”

With such imperatives behind the operation, there is absolutely no leeway for mishaps or delays, leading in reality to a chaotic and hugely stressful working environment.

After watching Ken Loach’s film Sorry We Missed You, a DPD sorter reported to us that, while it was very accurate in many particulars, the reality can sometimes be even worse than is depicted by Loach.

One backshift worker added: “Although our £300 bonus was scrapped this year (and forever more) due to ‘cost cutting of unnecessary expenses’, we were oh so generously given by the warehouse manager a £7 box of celebration chocolates each.

“This is the same warehouse manager who has pressured all staff to a ridiculous extent so that he could receive an ‘efficiency’ bonus of a few thousand pounds … which, of course, was not deemed an ‘unnecessary expense’ and was kept in place by the company.”

A worker recently returned from a three-month break after suffering a bout of serious depression (becoming suicidal) as a result of management pressure. He is slowly being edged back into his job, but is still being pressured unreasonably and blamed for the slightest of mistakes, even when they have nothing to do with him.

One Yodel sorter told us: “It states in our contracts that we must do a reasonable amount of overtime. The company might as well have said that you are expected to take all overtime. We are pressured into doing overtime because of how short-staffed the shifts are, even doing two out of every four overtime days per month you will be asked why you can’t do more, and it feels like an interrogation.

“Managers ask very personal questions, about things that have nothing to do with them; it’s a real an invasion of privacy. But not answering is seen as suspicious, almost like you are hiding the real reason you can’t do extra overtime. If you don’t agree with their opinion about what a ‘reasonable’ amount of overtime is, you will have your shift changed or in the worst case, they will replace you with somebody who will do the overtime being asked.”

At most delivery companies such as Yodel and Hermes, contracted in-house drivers are being replaced with ‘self-employed’ drivers, who are cheaper to employ since they don’t get holiday or sick pay. The company also saves a huge amount on not having to maintain a fleet of vehicles.

This further adds to the sense that workers are but a number, an asset to be used and discarded at the capitalists’ pleasure. Workers are afforded no say, no control or input into their jobs. Their livelihood, their future, the society and the world in which they live in is dictated by the very same capitalists who sweat them for every ounce of strength in their bodies.

Only socialism can provide the opposite: a world where workers decide how a country and society are run and how their lives and future will play out.