Amazon delivery firms face legal action over workers' rights

The Guardian Technology 5 months ago

Drivers delivering goods for Amazon are to fight for better employment rights, including sick pay, holiday pay and the national minimum wage.

The GMB union announced on Monday that it is taking legal action on behalf of members working for three delivery firms used by Amazon, arguing that the companies wrongly classed them as self-employed.

A statement from the union, which represents professional drivers, said: “The drivers were required to attend scheduled shifts that were controlled by Amazon, meaning they did not have the flexibility that is integral to being self-employed. In this situation, the couriers were treated like employees in terms of their working hours and the GMB union contends they should be treated as employees in terms of their rights too.”

The case is the latest in a string of gig economy legal disputes challenging what unions say is bogus self-employment among couriers and other drivers. The GMB won a landmark judgment against Uber in 2016 and others, including Deliveroo, Addison Lee and CityLink, are all involved in ongoing legal action.

The case is being handled by solicitors Leigh Day. Partner Nigel Mackay, a specialist in employment and discrimination law, said seven drivers – including two who had been dismissed – were involved in the claim at this stage and he expected that number would grow.

One of the drivers described his experience of leaving the house at 6am, not returning until 11pm at night and as a “thank you” for his hard work, had £1 per undelivered parcel deducted from his wages. On more than one occasion he was told by the company that he would not be paid if he did not complete a route and had sometimes driven when “half asleep at the wheel” in order to ensure he got paid.

Two of the members are also claiming that they were dismissed because of whistleblowing, claiming their roles were terminated because they raised concerns about working practice. These included that the number of parcels allocated to drivers resulted in excessive hours and/or driving unsafely to meet targets, and that drivers were expected to wait a significant time to load their vans, extending their working hours.

GMB’s general secretary, Tim Roache, said: “The day to day reality for many of our members who deliver packages for Amazon is unrealistic targets, slogging their guts out only to have deductions made from their pay when those targets aren’t met and being told they’re self-employed without the freedom that affords.”

“Companies like Amazon and their delivery companies can’t have it both ways – they can’t decide they want all of the benefits of having an employee, but refuse to give those employees the pay and rights they’re entitled to.”

“Guaranteed hours, holiday pay, sick pay, pension contributions are not privileges companies can dish out when they fancy. They are the legal right of all UK workers, and that’s what we’re asking the courts to rule on.”

An Amazon spokesman said delivery providers are contractually obligated to ensure drivers they engage receive the National Living Wage and are expected to pay a minimum of £12 per hour, follow all applicable laws and driving regulations and drive safely. “Allegations to the contrary do not represent the great work done by around 100 small businesses generating thousands of work opportunities for delivery drivers across the UK,” he said.

He added: “Amazon is proud to offer a wide variety of work opportunities across Britain – full-time or part-time employment, or be your own boss. Last year we created 5,000 new permanent jobs on top of thousands of opportunities for people to work independently with the choice and flexibility of being their own boss – either through Amazon Logistics, Amazon Flex, or Amazon Marketplace.”

In April, the delivery company Hermes, which delivers packages for retailers such as Next, Asos, John Lewis, Topshop and River Island, began a legal battle with eight of its own drivers. It is under pressure to settle after rival delivery firm DPD offered all its drivers sick pay and holiday pay as part of wholesale reforms to its gig working model sparked by the death of a driver it charged for attending a medical appointment to treat his diabetes and who later collapsed and died.

In 2016 the ride-hailing firm Uber was told its drivers should be classed as workers with minimum-wage rights.

Uber, which says its drivers are self-employed, lost its appeal against the decision last year but said it would appeal again. The case could end up in the supreme court this year.

Tags: amazon
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