World Day for Decent Work: Shedding light on the logistics sector’s hidden workers

7 Oct 2022

On World Day for Decent Work, the European Transport Workers’ Federation puts the spotlight on logistics workers: the invisible workers behind our supply chains in a rapidly growing and worryingly unregulated logistics sector.

Lack of regulation in the logistics sector has led to an entire workforce being unprotected and left completely vulnerable to poor labour standards and exploitation.

The growth in e-commerce – and its boom during the Covid-19 pandemic – has driven the expansion of the logistics sector. The push to deliver goods directly to people’s homes and not just to businesses or retailers has led to the rapid expansion of warehouses to sort and pack goods and last-mile delivery across urban centres

Rather than being managed directly, warehouse and delivery work are very often subcontracted to smaller firms that in turn, outsource the work for an ever-lower price. Subcontracting has become a key part of the business model dominating the logistics sector as it is a way of lowering costs and externalising risks. Ultimately, layer upon layer of subcontracting results in the companies at the top of the supply chain losing track of who is delivering their goods and the conditions of work across their supply chain.

Through this process, logistics workers are vulnerable to poor working conditions, low pay and abuse. The work is often precarious, with temporary, ‘zero-hour’ contracts or bogus ‘self-employment’ widespread: under these conditions, turnover is high and workers are vulnerable, making it increasingly hard for unions to reach them and represent them.

The growth of the sector has also been in part driven by investment in digitalisation and automation:  workers are often using, or are managed by, new technologies that are untested for their impacts on occupational safety and health and the use of artificial intelligence is growing.

In contrast, lawmakers are falling behind. Many EU countries don’t have strong rules around subcontracting, nor does this exist at EU level and transport policies lag behind the growth of the logistics sector. There has been a lack of adequate planning and capacity in public authorities to oversee the sector and manage its expansion. In the absence of regulations, companies are free to exploit weak national legislation.

This has led to an entire workforce being unprotected and left completely vulnerable to exploitation.

Harrowing stories of logistics workers from companies like Amazon, XPO Logistics, and others are proof of the extent of these practices.

For the ETF, it is clear that policy makers need to step up and regulate the sector. The specific challenges the logistics sector presents cannot go ignored, and proposals to ensure their labour rights must be respected.

Decent work in logistics must become the norm instead of exploitation:

  • Health & Safety standards

New technologies in logistics are untested for their impacts on occupational health & safety, and the use of artificial intelligence impacts working hours and workloads.

  • Collective bargaining coverage – including subcontracted workers

Companies must practice due diligence across their supply chain, including recognising trade unions and engaging in collective bargaining.

  • EU legislation to regulate the sector

ETF calls for robust EU legislation around subcontracting and procurement to ensure that companies are responsible for the human and labour rights of workers in their supply chain.

You can follow ETF’s fight for a fair logistics sector with decent work here.