Delivery drivers in Scotland are being forced to urinate into bottles and skip meals due to the “dehumanising” pressure to hit targets, according to one of Scotland’s leading screenwriters.
Paul Laverty – whose new film with director Ken Loach, Sorry We Missed You, shines a light on the harsh reality of zero-hour contracts and the gig economy – warned that workers were enduring “precarious” existences, and called on the UK government to devolve employment law to end the “exploitative” practices.
Laverty and Loach’s new film follows the story of Ricky, a driver for a parcel-delivery company, and Abbie, a home carer who covers the cost of her own travel between appointments, as they struggle to make ends meet and raise their family.
The Bafta award-winning screenwriter interviewed numerous drivers as part of the project, even joining them on the road as they raced to deliver one Amazon parcel after another.
The experience, he said, revealed “the truth” of their lives.
“You see the photographs of their children stuck to their dashboards, you see them drinking high-energy drinks all day,” he told Scotland on Sunday. “The people I went out with didn’t have time to eat a meal, let alone take toilet breaks – some used plastic bottles to urinate in.
“What I think is really insidious is the language of these workers’ contracts. They’re no longer employees, but ‘owner/driver franchisees’. There’s no healthcare or sickness pay, and if you’re in an accident, you’re on your own.”
Laverty, whose previous collaborations with Loach include award-winning films such as I, Daniel Blake, Sweet Sixteen and My Name Is Joe, said he was under “no illusions” about the influence wielded by corporations and lobbyists on the EU, but warned that Britain’s departure from the union would further imperil ordinary working families.
“Boris Johnson is planning to roll out the red carpet to American business,” he said. “What do you think is going to happen to regulations, holiday pay, the minimum wage and basic health and safety standards as a result?
“If that doesn’t put the fear of God into communities and institutions like the NHS, I don’t know what will. It’ll be a carve-up and that will create an even bigger dichotomy between the rich and the poor. The direction of travel is absolutely clear.”
The film’s release coincides with the publication of a new report by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) which details how workers on zero-hours and short-term contracts are suffering from a lack of time and control over their own lives.
The report, entitled Time, Control, Trust: Collectivising In Precarious Work, warned that many workers are facing a “double burden” by being both time-poor and financially poor, with their mental health suffering as a consequence.
STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: “Precarious work isn’t inevitable. Generations of trade union activism has allowed many people to live in comfort and security. The danger is that low wages, intensified work and zero-hour contracts are becoming normal practices in parts of our economy thanks to the pressure of welfare cuts and anti-union laws.”
Laverty, from Edinburgh, said it was vital to fully devolve employment powers to end exploitative contracts.
He explained: “I think it’s a brilliant initiative. It’s not a revolution, but it would make a big, big difference. I’m not a member of the Labour or SNP, but I’ve a lot of sympathy for progressive people who say the first thing we have to do is end zero-hours contracts, because all the power lies with corporations.”
Sorry We Missed You will be released in cinemas UK-wide on Friday.