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Journal ArticleDOI

Paying for free delivery: dependent self-employment as a measure of precarity in parcel delivery

01 Jun 2018-Work, Employment & Society (SAGE Publications)-Vol. 32, Iss: 3, pp 475-492
TL;DR: In this paper, the authors explore supply chain pressures in parcel delivery and how the drive to contain costs to preserve value in motion, including the costs of failed delivery, underpins contractual diffe...
Abstract: This article explores supply chain pressures in parcel delivery and how the drive to contain costs to ‘preserve value in motion’, including the costs of failed delivery, underpins contractual diffe...

Summary (2 min read)

Introduction

  • Dualisation is the confinement of precarity to sections of the workforce (the periphery) with ‘insider’ actors complicit.
  • At the same time the freedom of movement and control over the labour process that are implied by ‘self-employment’ is actually constrained; mobility and the organisation of work are subject to control – the double indeterminacy of ‘self-employed’ drivers is resolved in favour of the employer.
  • This article draws upon qualitative research exploring the impact of supply chain pressures on work and employment in the parcel delivery sector.
  • This study of parcel delivery in the UK is set in the context of the liberalisation of the postal service involving a change in the regulatory regime and ultimately (in 2013) the privatisation of Royal Mail.

Precarity and parcel delivery in the UK

  • Following the 2008–2009 recession, self-employment has been a main source of UK employment growth.
  • The fiction of self-employment was exposed in two legal cases in 2016.
  • In November 2017 a claim for union recognition for collective bargaining for Deliveroo riders failed on the basis that they were judged to be ‘self-employed’ because of their apparent freedom to ‘substitute’ allowing other riders to take their place on a job (Central Arbitration Committee, 2017).
  • This points to a dynamic relationship between self-employed and directly employed workers, but also ‘between the indeterminacies around mobility power and effort power’ (Smith, 2006: 399).
  • The concern is to explore how supply chain and cost pressures in parcel delivery have produced differential contractual statuses and to explore the construction of precarity through the lens of the labour process.

Research methods

  • The article is based upon the findings of a research project concerned with exploring the working conditions of parcel delivery workers at the end of the supply chain.
  • The second case study, Company B, is part of a US multinational and is also unionised, with terms and conditions collectively negotiated.
  • Access to this company was more problematic, but eight interviews were secured with full-time union officials as well as directly employed workers and owner-drivers.
  • Finally, interviews were undertaken with six home-based couriers in Company C, a national organisation that is non-unionised and operates with both owner-drivers and home couriers.
  • The research was subject to ethical approval and all interviews were face-to-face, recorded and transcribed and based on informed consent with confidentiality and anonymity guaranteed.

Contractual differentiation

  • The evidence pointed to the emergence of three tiers of contractual status driven by competitive and cost cutting pressures and producing different levels of precarity.
  • When the authors came here they took a load from company1, about six or seven, and there’s a load that have come from company2.
  • While in some companies owner-drivers were given more condensed delivery areas as driving longer distances without pay would not be financially viable, in others it was reported that they were allocated rural routes ‘to take the hit’ of non-productive driving time or ‘dead mileage’.
  • For home couriers the demarcation between work and home was also unclear since parcels were dropped to their homes and between one to two hours daily were spent sorting parcels into delivery rounds, scanning them into the system and downloading the ‘manifest’ which dictated the delivery route.
  • Here the distinction between paid and unpaid working time is exposed acutely when drivers return to the depot at the end of the day for unloading.

The substitutability of labour

  • The use of owner-drivers served to minimise the mobility power of existing workers.
  • So I was thinking that’s a bit funny and I was going to kick off a stink about that when I thought, do you know what, I don’t want them mucking about with my route.
  • Then it’s the same when they’re out delivering, because you’re driving you should have a break now and again; some won’t have a break, some won’t have a dinner.
  • We’re supposed to decide when the authors work, not them.’.

Conclusions

  • This article reveals how intense supply chain pressures in a highly competitive parcel delivery market have produced differentiated contractual status and how reconfigured contractual status is integral to cost cutting, the speed-up of delivery and, crucially, the removal of non-delivery costs.
  • The outcome of the Deliveroo recognition case did not bode well, but the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Pimlico Plumbers (The Guardian, 2018) was expected to set a precedent.
  • A labour process focus exposes how dependent self-employment allows for the excision of periods of working time from the remit of pay, in particular through the removal of the costs of nondelivery.
  • This article has responded to Smith’s (2006) call for further work on the balance between indeterminacies for different groups of workers and employers and how mobility power shapes the labour process under different forms of capitalism.
  • At the same time, while self-employment is apparently a manifestation of mobility, for owner-drivers the freedom of movement and control over the labour process that is implied by this contractual status is constrained.

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https://doi.org/10.1177/0950017018755664
Work, Employment and Society
1 –18
© The Author(s) 2018
Reprints and permissions:
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DOI: 10.1177/0950017018755664
journals.sagepub.com/home/wes
Paying for Free Delivery:
Dependent Self-Employment
as a Measure of Precarity in
Parcel Delivery
Sian Moore
University of Greenwich, UK
Kirsty Newsome
University of Sheffield, UK
Abstract
This article explores supply chain pressures in parcel delivery and how the drive to contain
costs to ‘preserve value in motion’, including the costs of failed delivery, underpins contractual
differentiation. It focuses on owner-drivers and home couriers paid by delivery. It considers
precarity through the lens of the labour process, while locating it within the supply chain,
political economy and ‘instituted economic process’ that define it. Focus on the labour process
shows how ‘self-employment’ is used to remove so-called ‘unproductive’ time from the remit
of paid labour. Using Smith’s concept of double indeterminacy the article captures the dynamic
relationship between those on standard and non-standard contracts and interdependency of effort
power and mobility power. It exposes the apparent mobility and autonomy of dependent self-
employed drivers while suggesting that their presence, alongside the increased use of technology,
reconfigures the work-effort bargain across contractual status.
Keywords
dualisation, logistics, precarity, self-employment, supply chains
Introduction
Forming part of the logistics sector, parcel delivery work has expanded rapidly under the
impetus of internet shopping and e-commerce and has become dominated by dependent
Corresponding author:
Sian Moore, Business School, University of Greenwich, Park Row, London SE10 9LS, UK.
Email: S.Moore@Greenwich.ac.uk
755664
WES0010.1177/0950017018755664Work, employment and societyMoore and Newsome
research-article2018
Article

2 Work, Employment and Society 00(0)
self-employment. Government figures point to a substantial increase in those considered
self-employed, while recent Employment Tribunal (ET) cases involving Uber and City
Sprint have exposed the fiction of ‘self-employment’ and the contradiction between con-
tractual status and the high level of dependency and surveillance that characterises the
work of the so-called ‘self-employed’ (ET, 2016a, 2016b). Despite these cases the Taylor
Review of Modern Working Practices (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial
Strategy (BEIS), 2017) declined to recognise the employment rights of ‘self-employed’
workers, highlighting the increase in their numbers, while celebrating the flexibility of
the UK labour market. In comparison Field and Forsey exposed the ‘Hermesisation’
1
of
parcel delivery services and detailed the panoply of ‘questionable working practices’ that
characterise the organisation of work (Field and Forsey, 2016: 3).
The reconfiguration of the supply chain has fuelled a burgeoning logistics infrastruc-
ture and myriad sub-contracting relationships and fissured workplaces (Weil, 2014). The
requirement for more exacting, demanding and time critical levels of delivery results in
an increasingly competitive market. The ‘last mile of delivery’ at the end of the supply
chain is said to be the key to competitive advantage, with the costs of non-delivery cru-
cial. The application of increasingly complex IT systems track and trace the movement
of parcels under the watchful gaze of the employer and increasingly the customer. A
European study exploring employment change in the parcel delivery sector highlights
that liberalisation and de-regulation have resulted in far-reaching deterioration in
employment conditions with increases in atypical employment, precarity and ‘self-
employment’ paid by piece-rate (Hermann, 2013).
Precarious work has become an umbrella term for a range of often undifferentiated
‘non-standard’ forms of employment to which contractual insecurity is central. Prosser
(2016) has discussed precarious work in terms of competing theories of dualisation and
liberalisation, whose application is country specific. Dualisation is the confinement of
precarity to sections of the workforce (the periphery) with ‘insider actors complicit.
Liberalisation, in contrast, threatens employment security and terms and conditions for all
workers as a result of structural processes. Recalling the possibility of Fordism as excep-
tion and precarity as norm (Neilson and Rositer, 2008), this article conceptualises precar-
ity through the lens of liberalisation, informed by Vosko’s (2006) warning against
dichotomising standard and non-standard work. It draws first on Behring and Harvey’s
(2015) ‘instituted economic process’ approach to explain the proliferation of ‘self-
employment’ in parcel delivery. They assert legal, fiscal and economic organisational pro-
cesses as co-constitutive of the labour market within which employment status is defined
(Behring and Harvey, 2015: 971). Fudge’s (2017) discussion of the decline of the standard
employment contract similarly points to the influence of institutional, fiscal and social
policies, employer strategies and trade union responses. If these authors provide a wider
political economy for dependent self-employment, Smith’s (2006) conceptualisation of
the double indeterminancy of labour – effort power and mobility power – allows a neces-
sary link to the labour process. Here ‘internal differentiation within the firm – segmenting
jobs into different contracts’ can be read as an attempt on the part of the employer to mini-
mise the mobility power of internal labour (Smith, 2006: 399). The case of parcel delivery
suggests that the use of ‘self-employed’ labour impacts upon both the mobility and work-
effort bargain of directly employed drivers. At the same time the freedom of movement

Moore and Newsome 3
and control over the labour process that are implied by ‘self-employment’ is actually
constrained; mobility and the organisation of work are subject to control – the double
indeterminacy of ‘self-employed’ drivers is resolved in favour of the employer. For parcel
delivery companies, self-employment may go some way to resolve uncertainties in the
capitalist employment relationship and within the supply chain.
This article draws upon qualitative research exploring the impact of supply chain
pressures on work and employment in the parcel delivery sector. The article first outlines
the political economy of logistics, the liberalisation and privatisation of postal services
and the changing nature of the UK parcel delivery sector. Second, it sets out the institu-
tional framework, the growth in ‘self-employment’ and UK state support for it in the face
of legal challenges. Research methods are detailed and the article then explores the evi-
dence from in-depth interviews with directly employed and ‘self-employed’ parcel deliv-
ery workers in the context of three case study organisations. It illustrates the differentiated
contractual status of labour as pressures are passed down the supply chain and the role of
collective regulation in differentiation. It exposes the fiction of self-employment in par-
cel delivery and the way that dependent self-employment facilitates unpaid work, adding
unpaid labour to extant dimensions of precarity. Finally it looks at the impact of the
substitutability of labour on the mobility power of directly employed drivers alongside
the work-effort bargain.
The political economy of parcel delivery in the UK
This study of parcel delivery in the UK is set in the context of the liberalisation of the
postal service involving a change in the regulatory regime and ultimately (in 2013) the
privatisation of Royal Mail. The third Postal Services Directive in 2008 required all EU
postal markets to be opened to competition, and in the UK the Postal Services Act 2011
reflected that requirement. The parcels market has expanded in response to ‘a revolution
of e-commerce’ (Ofcom, 2014) with Britain the biggest online shopping market in
Europe (Financial Times, 23 November 2014). In 2013 products ordered online gener-
ated just over one billion deliveries; by 2018, this number is expected to grow by 28.8%
to 1.35 billion (Barclays, 2014). Turnover in the UK parcel market, dominated by Royal
Mail, Hermes and Yodel, jumped 9.7% in 2016 to £9.7 billion (Financial Times, 20
February 2017). Crucially intense competition means carriers receiving less for deliver-
ies (Financial Times, 6 January 2016) with the communications regulator Ofcom finding
that the average price paid to deliver a domestic parcel fell in 2015–2016.
The Financial Times (FT) (23 November 2014) has reported that ‘faster delivery
times have become a critical issue for postal operators and retailers’, with the success of
DPD (owned by France’s La Poste) in increasing its parcel volumes due, at least in part,
to its delivery technology – a nationwide seven-day service that uses GPS technology to
give customers a one-hour delivery window and lets the company track the driver en
route. As important as delivery times is the issue of failed deliveries, with first-time
delivery vital to competitiveness and the onus on the company to deliver rather than the
customer to be home. For the FT this issue has not been effectively resolved, with repeat
deliveries representing real costs for companies and a spokesperson for Deutsche Post
reporting that it can take three delivery attempts before a parcel is received (Financial

4 Work, Employment and Society 00(0)
Times, 23 November 2014). Barclays’ report on the sector confirmed that the biggest
issue facing logistics firms is delivering goods when recipients are not present and that
over 63% of carriers stated this as a concern (Barclays, 2014).
More critical contributions have sought analytical purchase on the dimensions of the
logistics transformation and their impact on labour. Logistics, Hesse and Rodrigue
(2006) argue, supports, shapes and provides coherence to global production networks
with its scope and remit operating beyond the simple storage and delivery of goods.
Harvey et al. (2002) extend this argument by highlighting new conflicts over the capture
of added values generated by fragmented supply chain relationships. They suggest that
retailers/clients not only reconfigure relations under their exacting patronage, but simul-
taneously orchestrate competition among third party providers (3PL) as a mechanism to
maximise efficiency and drive down costs. As a result, contracts between retailers and
parcel delivery providers are short-term, contingent and transparent – creating a quasi-
market – controlled by client organisations with costs (non-delivery and damage)
defrayed to providers. There is a growing body of research evidence that focuses on the
implications for labour and collective regulation of this ‘contested terrain’ between
retailers and logistics companies (Coe, 2014). The ‘labourers of movement’ (Cowen,
2014) find themselves within a ‘perfect storm’ of globalisation, fragmentation of produc-
tion, fissured workplaces, new logistics technologies and eroded collective regulation
(Coe, 2014; Flecker et al., 2013; Newsome, 2015). It is parcel delivery workers, at the
end of the supply chain, who experience the effects of acute cost minimisation. To date
there is little research evidence exploring how this cost minimisation is articulated
through the contractual status of workers.
Precarity and parcel delivery in the UK
Following the 2008–2009 recession, self-employment has been a main source of UK
employment growth. Tomlinson and Corlett (2017) estimate from Labour Force Survey
data that it accounted for 45% of the growth in total employment from the second
quarter of 2008 to the final quarter of 2016 when it totalled 4.6 million or one in seven
of the workforce (15%). Although the category is diverse, solo self-employment pre-
dominates, as relatively few self-employed workers have employees (Hatfield, 2015).
Self-employment removes employment rights and employer obligation to workers,
transferring risk and the social costs of employment (sick pay, holiday pay and pen-
sions) to the worker.
Studies of the construction sector demonstrate the prevalence of false or bogus self-
employment (Behring and Harvey, 2015). Similarly, self-employment in parcel delivery
is marked by many characteristics of direct employment, in terms of continuity of
engagement with a single employer and control over working time and the labour pro-
cess. The fiction of self-employment was exposed in two legal cases in 2016. In Aslam
and Farrar v Uber (ET, 2016a), two drivers supported by the GMB union brought claims
under the Employment Rights Act 1996 and National Minimum Wage Act 1998 over the
failure of the company to pay the minimum wage and to provide paid leave. Uber claimed
that the drivers were not workers and thus not entitled to protection under the legislation.
However, the ET found that the drivers had a dependent work relationship with Uber, not

Moore and Newsome 5
least because the company instructed drivers how to do their work and controlled them
in the performance of their duties (Uber lost an appeal against the decision). A similar
case concerned CitySprint (ET, 2016b), where it was judged that a bicycle courier should
be classified as a worker and not an ‘independent contractor and had a right to paid holi-
days. Here it was deemed that the regulation by the employer of the amount of work
available, performance of the service and of the size of the workforce were indications of
direct employment. She was considered to have no real right to appoint a substitute (to
take her place when she was not available for work). The issue of ‘substitution’ arose
again in the case of Deliveroo, with a divergent outcome. In November 2017 a claim for
union recognition for collective bargaining for Deliveroo riders failed on the basis that
they were judged to be ‘self-employed’ because of their apparent freedom to ‘substitute’
allowing other riders to take their place on a job (Central Arbitration Committee, 2017).
For Managing Director, Dan Warne, this was ‘a victory’ for the flexibility that self-
employment provides (BBC, 2017). Rights to the National Living Wage (NLW) were
tested in the referral of Hermes to HM Revenue and Customs. The company maintained
that the self-employed status of the couriers removed its legal responsibility to ensure
they were paid the NLW, while the Guardian reported that the sums paid to couriers
amounted to less than the hourly NLW (Booth and Osborne, 2016). The subsequent
investigation promised to shed light on how far classifications of self-employment are
misplaced and the extent to which employers were using self-employment to circumvent
payment of the NLW.
The research presented here is concerned to understand the changing contractual sta-
tus of parcel delivery workers in a way which moves beyond dichotomised precarious
and ‘standard’ work contracts (Kalleberg, 2012). This involves an approach which
embeds an understanding of precarity in political economy but with sufficient fluidity to
explore its dimensions and dynamics at the level of the workplace, embracing the labour
process and role of labour as agent (Strauss, 2017). Behring and Harvey’s notion of
degenerative and instituted competition between ‘different qualities and types of labor’
is resonant (2015: 972). Exploration of the differentiated labour process of directly
employed and ‘self-employed’ drivers allows reflection on Smith’s (2006) concept of the
double indeterminancy of labour. Here labour mobility is one element of labour indeter-
minancy. Since self-employment is theoretically posed as a form of mobility – freedom
of the individual to dispose of their labour (Thompson and Smith, 2009) – the labour
power of self-employed workers is potentially expanded. At the same time, Smith’s
(2006) argument suggests that the use of self-employed workers increases the substitut-
ability of directly employed labour in order to manage their mobility. This points to a
dynamic relationship between self-employed and directly employed workers, but also
‘between the indeterminacies around mobility power and effort power’ (Smith, 2006:
399). A double-edged double indeterminancy arises, since for both groups of workers the
second element of indeterminancy – effort power – is contested and constrained by the
‘employer’, in part through the fiction of the mobility power of ‘self-employed’ workers
and in part through the technological control of performance – with the latter belying the
status of ‘self-employed’ workers.
Drawing on this contextual and conceptual framework the research responds to Vosko’s
emphasis on a multifaceted approach to elaborate how dimensions of precarious work at

Citations
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  • ...Many of the articles in this issue (Choi, 2018; Moore and Newsome, 2018; Rubery et al. 2018) rather suggest the intertwined and mutually conditioning nature of contractually fragmented figures of labour, where the boundaries and benefits of employment and self-employment are not always clear cut....

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  • ...…expanding in some contexts (for example, accounting for 45 per cent of the growth in total employment in the UK between 2008 and 2016, as reported by Moore and Newsome, 2018), may be illusory since the re-arrangement of capital through new online technologies can reproduce new forms of…...

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  • ...Moore and Newsome (2018) identify three models of contractual statuses in delivery work in the UK: drivers directly employed by companies; self-employed owner-drivers and ‘life style’ couriers (home-based couriers with very limited ties to the company)....

    [...]

  • ...In the case of the delivery drivers studied by Moore and Newsome (2018), for instance, the employment status of freelancers gives them ‘mobility power’ (Smith, 2006), drawing on their informal networks to get better deals and change employers....

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  • ...The reorganization of work has evolved into a more polarized and precarious employment system, particularly for independent workers, because their legal classification exempts them from protections afforded to employees (Kalleberg, 2011; Moore and Newsome, 2018)....

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References
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TL;DR: In this article, the authors characterize the changes that have taken place as involving the institutionalization of new forms of dualism and argue that what gives contemporary developments a different character from the past is that dualism is now explicitly underwritten by state policy.
Abstract: The French and German political economies have been significantly reconfigured over the past two decades. Although the changes have often been more piecemeal than revolutionary, their cumulative effects are profound. The authors characterize the changes that have taken place as involving the institutionalization of new forms of dualism and argue that what gives contemporary developments a different character from the past is that dualism is now explicitly underwritten by state policy. They see this outcome as the culmination of a sequence of developments, beginning in the field of industrial relations, moving into labor market dynamics, and finally finding institutional expression in welfare state reforms. Contrary to theoretical accounts that suggest that institutional complementarities support stability and institutional reproduction, the authors argue that the linkages across these realms have helped to translate employer strategies that originated in the realm of industrial relations into a stable, new, and less egalitarian model with state support.

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"Paying for free delivery: dependent..." refers background in this paper

  • ...While such organisational tension has been used to testify to dual labour markets (Palier and Thelen, 2010) the evidence suggests a more dynamic relationship....

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Journal ArticleDOI
TL;DR: In 2003, the concept of precarity emerged as the central organizing platform for a series of social struggles that would spread across the space of Europe, and four years later, almost as suddenly as the precarity movement appeared, so it would enter into crisis as mentioned in this paper.
Abstract: In 2003, the concept of precarity emerged as the central organizing platform for a series of social struggles that would spread across the space of Europe. Four years later, almost as suddenly as the precarity movement appeared, so it would enter into crisis. To understand precarity as a political concept it is necessary to go beyond economistic approaches that see social conditions as determined by the mode of production. Such a move requires us to see Fordism as exception and precarity as the norm. The political concept and practice of translation enables us to frame the precarity of creative labour in a broader historical and geographical perspective, shedding light on its contestation and relation to the concept of the common. Our interest is in the potential for novel forms of connection, subjectivization and political organization. Such processes of translation are themselves inherently precarious, transborder undertakings.

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TL;DR: The model of the flexible firm has gained a prominent role in shaping debate about labour market flexibility and employment restructuring in the 1980s as discussed by the authors, and it argues that employers are increasingly s...
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Book
01 Sep 2014

329 citations


"Paying for free delivery: dependent..." refers background in this paper

  • ...The ‘labourers of movement’ (Cowen, 2014) find themselves within a ‘perfect storm’ of globalisation, fragmentation of production, fissured workplaces, new logistics technologies and eroded collective regulation (Coe, 2014; Flecker et al., 2013; Newsome, 2015)....

    [...]

Book
05 Jul 2001
TL;DR: The Supiot Report as mentioned in this paper provides a broad and far-reaching look at the changing nature of work initiated by the European Council of Human Rights (ECHR) in the 1990s.
Abstract: "This book is the English edition of what has become widely known as 'The Supiot Report' - a bold and far-reaching look at the changing nature of work initiated by the EC. It takes as its starting point the profound changes that have taken place in the underlying employment relationship and associated human resource practices over the past twenty years. These developments are placed in their economic, social, institutional, and legal contexts. Competitive pressures on firms, the search for greater efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of public services, the changing role of women in society, and the desire for greater choice on the part of individuals are all important motives for change. The legal framework and the structures and organizations which represent the interests of workers and employers must respond to these changes. Drawing on illustrations from a number of European countries, the book suggests that the legal framework should encourage greater collaboration in the workplace, particularly over issues such as training. But it should also place work within its social context and facilitate genuine choices by individuals."

233 citations

Frequently Asked Questions (2)
Q1. What contributions have the authors mentioned in the paper "Paying for free delivery: dependent self-employment as a measure of precarity in parcel delivery" ?

This article explores supply chain pressures in parcel delivery and how the drive to contain costs to ‘ preserve value in motion ’, including the costs of failed delivery, underpins contractual differentiation. Using Smith ’ s concept of double indeterminacy the article captures the dynamic relationship between those on standard and non-standard contracts and interdependency of effort power and mobility power. It exposes the apparent mobility and autonomy of dependent selfemployed drivers while suggesting that their presence, alongside the increased use of technology, reconfigures the work-effort bargain across contractual status. 

This article has responded to Smith ’ s ( 2006 ) call for further work on the balance between indeterminacies for different groups of workers and employers and how mobility power shapes the labour process under different forms of capitalism. In the context of dependent self-employment it suggests that Smith ’ s double indeterminacy is also double edged. Despite the apparent contradictions of ‘ double-double indeterminacy ’, the reality of the dependence of self-employed drivers, as constructed through instituted economic processes, suggests resolution for capital.