A major lawsuit against parcel companies PostNL and GLS, and a whole chain of subcontractors, will begin in Mechelen today in criminal court. They are accused of organized social fraud, and the couriers were the main victims. The Christian Union calls it a “modern form of slavery.”
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Friday on the list of the criminal court in Mechelen. In total, there are about 50 files, with PostNL and GLS – two of the most important courier companies in our country – on the defendant, but also directors of both companies and several subcontractors driving for PostNL and GLS.
A labor prosecutor is suing the parcel companies for inciting “organized social fraud”. This includes unadvertised work and fictitious self-employment. Trade unions took on a civic party. PostNL and GLS do not work with their carriers. They use subcontractors for this purpose. They in turn work with employees or are self-employed. But neither subcontractors nor carriers have any control. They are fully controlled by PostNL and GLS Hans Elsen, secretary of the ACV Puls Christian Servants Union. “Once they are in their truck, they have to comply with the entirety of the PostNL and GLS scripts,” said Roel Deisen, a Christian union attorney.
‘Race to the bottom’
According to the unions, a “race to the bottom” has begun, in which couriers are “squeezed like lemons.” For example, the Department of Social Inspection calculated that couriers should easily deliver 190 to 200 parcels per day. “It is impossible to deliver during normal business hours. If they also fail to carry their packages, they risk a fine or lose their job. We have certificates of package deliveries who are forced to sleep on the side of the road, or who take amphetamines to stay awake. These are strangling contracts. Dessin said.
PostNL and GLS are in the dock, but according to the Christian Union, the violations apply to the entire sector. “It’s not a viable business model,” says Dessin. “Couriers get just over one euro to deliver a package to people. That’s modern slavery.”
The unions want to ensure that parcel deliverers – an estimated 10,000 people in the whole of Belgium – work as employees for companies like PostNL and GLS. They hope the suit will create a shock. A verdict is not expected before the summer of 2022 at the earliest, and defendants risk millions in fines, and in extreme cases even prison sentences.
Access to couriers
The unions will distribute flyers to the warehouses of all parcel companies on Friday and next week, in order to reach couriers and raise awareness. “It’s about a vulnerable group of people who are often difficult to reach. Some don’t speak Dutch,” said Christoph Falk of ACV Transcom.
In response, a spokeswoman for PostNL Belgium said that the company is fully cooperating with the investigation and abiding by all laws and regulations. “We stand up for honest work and decent pay, as well as for people who deliver packages on our behalf,” it seemed.
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