September 24, 2022

Taylor Daily Press

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Hiring an illegal courier?  In Belgium, the Public Prosecution Office closes the warehouse

Hiring an illegal courier? In Belgium, the Public Prosecution Office closes the warehouse

When the inspectors entered the warehouse of the postal company GLS in Bors (a town southeast of Antwerp), the young men reached for their mobile phones at the assembly line and immediately began calling. looks fierce everywhere. What is going on?

A seasoned inspector (61) with short gray hair walks past men loading their trucks with packages. She stops halfway through the warehouse — her employer and colleagues are not allowed in the newspaper, “to protect their privacy and integrity,” a labor inspectorate spokesperson emailed. At Dock 34, the inspector said what she had said hundreds of times over decades: “Labour Inspectorate, papers please.”

After checks in recent weeks at PostNL and DPD sites in Flanders, inspectors, police and customs officers transferred UK parcel company GLS courier accounts from the inside out on this rainy morning. GLS hires delivery companies with its own drivers to deliver packages, but is responsible for ensuring that these companies comply with the rules.

The parcel post industry is crashing: it seems to be the rule, not the exception. In the Netherlands, abuses have been in the news frequently in recent years, But in Belgium there appears to have been more events in the past six months. In recent years, for example, there have been many reports of unauthorized work, underpayment of parcel providers by courier companies, drivers delivering parcels, mailers without residence papers, and minors doing hard work in warehouses.

The vulnerability of the parcel industry is related to how it is organized. PostNL, DPD and GLS deliver parcels mainly by self-employed people with courier companies. Since there are hundreds of companies, it is difficult to keep track of them. Delivery companies have their own ways: they charge a flat fee for each address. The subcontractor pays for buses, gasoline, auto insurance, tin damage, and personnel costs.

Jasper Jacobs / Belgium photo

set of violations

Online shopping has taken off during the Corona crisis. Postal companies take advantage of this. turnover last year increased by 14.5 percent to 3.3 billion euros, and gross profit almost doubled to 245 million euros in the Netherlands; Figures for Belgium are not available.

But the investigation conducted by the SZW Inspectorate of Last year it turned out that nine out of ten courier companies are PostNL, DHL, DPD and GLS They do not have their affairs arranged in the Netherlands. Violations range from unauthorized work, couriers without valid residency documents, to the re-lease of delivery routes to other entrepreneurs.

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The situation is not much better in Belgium, says Gianni Reale, a public prosecutor in the Mechelen Public Prosecution Service who specializes in crime in the workplace. Riel is the officer in Belgium who wants to address abuses in the postal industry. He’s sitting in his office in the Flemish city: large wooden cabinets and a desk full of papers. During a check at PostNL in Mechelen in May, it turned out that 11 of the 23 drivers were operating illegally, he said. And when inspectors raided three PostNL warehouses two weeks ago, they found a host of violations: ten unauthorized workers, ten delivery workers who worked more hours than their contract allowed, and a courier without a residence permit.

This was not the only thing. The officer “received specific information” that the manager of PostNL (the company controls 10 to 15 percent of the parcel market in Belgium and is growing rapidly) canceled the drivers during the check. “If true, it is obstruction of censorship and therefore a crime,” Riel says. The officer confirmed that the case is still under investigation. PostNL previously confirmed in Norwegian Refugee Council Failure to cooperate with fraud courier companies and full cooperation with the investigations of the Labor Inspectorate.

How’s the GLS doing this morning at the Puurs?

At a five in the morning briefing for officers, customs officers and inspectors at the police station in a town near Bürs, Police Chief Gert van de Ede warned of “runners” and drivers fleeing. Last summer, GLS Police pulled a driver out of the woods next to the distribution center. The man walked straight through the rose bushes. “It was covered in scratches.”

All escape routes are closed today. Police cars 510 and 520 cover the edge of the forest, says van de Ede. The 530 monitors the escape route to Duvel Logistics. During a GLS check in May, some drivers tried to quickly arrange their registration. That’s why Van de Ede urges his people: “Be sharp. I think GLS won’t cooperate much.”

PostNL abuses are no longer a surprise to the Belgian prosecutor

Fake self-employed

At first, the justice system in Belgium focused mainly on courier companies, or so-called subcontractors, who did not comply with the rules. But in the courtroom, Officer Reale noticed that the self-employed were always telling the same story: They weren’t perpetrators, but victims. They got into trouble because they didn’t earn enough.

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Since then, Reale has also focused on large postal companies. According to him, they have an important responsibility. “Carriers work in the warehouses of these companies and drive around in buses with the company’s name on them. They don’t set the rhythm of their work and their wages. Then you can’t just assert that they are subcontractors. Some of them are falsely self-employed.”

In the Netherlands, the focus is on imposing fines

At the end of last month, Belgian Minister Petra de Sutter (Green, government employees and public companies) reported in the daily newspaper the time That there must be a law specifying the percentage of couriers employed. This would put an end to the “pseudo-entrepreneurs,” according to the minister. It remains uncertain whether this law will actually enter into force.

Meanwhile, Riel continues his fight against abuse. What’s remarkable: his approach is much stricter than that of the Netherlands – the focus is ultimately on fines.

Reale has filed a criminal case against PostNL and GLS. He wants to convince the judge that the courier companies or their drivers are disguised employees of PostNL and GLS. The officer threatened to close the warehouses last summer, and he kept his word a few weeks ago. PostNL had to believe it. A distribution center in Wommelgem (PostNL has seven such centers in Belgium) is closed for the days around Black Friday, a period when online shopping is very high. Warehouses are not closed in the Netherlands.

Is GLS facing the same punishment this morning?

An experienced inspector says this morning it wasn’t too bad. “Everyone speaks English, French or Dutch. I usually need an interpreter.” The inspector checked several Romanians who were driving for the same courier company. Driver’s licenses, registrations, and Social Security payments arranged. She gave the three men a yellow wristband, so that her colleagues could see that they had been checked.

papers at home

“Can you come over for a minute?” A young inspector checks a courier from Burkina Faso. The man has an Italian residence permit, but says he forgot his Belgian papers at home. An experienced inspector is in doubt and contacts the Immigration Department.

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She responded by surprise “Illegal?” The man’s application to stay in Belgium was refused. He can’t work. In September, the man heard that he should return to Italy or Burkina Faso. He has to go to the police station. Another colleague unloads his delivery truck. The bus may not be used until the investigation is complete.

Inspection alone is not the answer to preventing abuse, inspectors say when they return to the police station at 10:30 a.m. They note that there have been fewer violations since the inspectorate has checked warehouses several times over the past year, but some companies continue to break the rules. Some courier companies and their drivers should be employed by PostNL and GLS, an experienced inspector says, so that there is no ambiguity about pay. She believes that the self-employed should get better wages. On top of that, she says, there is also a responsibility to the consumer. “As long as they prefer not to pay for something, you continue to transgress.”

At the end of the morning, it appears that a total of forty “violations” had been exposed: four times undeclared work, once “illegal work”, and 33 drivers worked more than their contracts allow.

Immediately after the inspection at the GLS, the Labor Inspectorate shared its findings via e-mail with Officer Gianni Reale. He is unrelenting: the GLS repository will close immediately for 1.5 days.

On the same day, GLS posted a response on its website. The company “regrets” the closure of the warehouse which “virtually paralyzed its full operational operation”. As a result, customers are the victims, the British company wrote. GLS believes that “third parties with whom it cooperates” must abide by the Code. “Management is closely monitoring compliance.”

Officer Reale says whether this actually happens on foot will be assessed at the next check. He says GLS will have an “absolute opportunity” to show its “good intentions”.