Revealed: Nearly 400 drivers join labor rights legal battle against Amazon
Nearly 400 drivers who delivered packages for Amazon have joined a legal battle seeking compensation from the internet retail giant for labor rights, The Independent can reveal.
Law firm Leigh Day launched a claim on behalf of a driver just months ago – but the number of people who have signed up to take action has now risen to 392.
Drivers who deliver goods to addresses for Amazon through “delivery service partners” companies are classified as self-employed, which denies them employee rights such as minimum wage and paid vacation.
A driver involved in the lawsuit has revealed how he endured grueling shifts to deliver up to around 300 packages a day and faced more than a month off work without pay when he had fallen ill. He accused Amazon of treating drivers like “slaves”, urging it to recognize them as employees instead.
Leigh Day thinks at least 3,000 drivers could be entitled to an average compensation of £10,500 each year they delivered parcels for the company founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, meaning Amazon could have to shell out million pounds.
The internet giant – which recorded a profit of £5.8billion in the first three months of last year – has previously faced allegations that some drivers working for courier companies delivering his wares would have fetched less than minimum wage.
The lawsuit follows a landmark decision against Uber last year in which the Supreme Court ruled that app drivers should be classified as workers and have rights.
It comes as a survey of drivers who had delivered packages for Amazon over the Christmas period found nearly nine in ten said the targets or working conditions had put themselves or others in danger. The survey of 131 drivers, including 75 who had registered at the time to make claims, was carried out by Leigh Day between December 27 and January 8.
Meanwhile, eight in ten said their job as a delivery driver had felt more pressured since the Covid-19 pandemic, while only half said the money they made doing the role covered the cost of living. About a third said they worked more than 12 hours a day, and 94% said they worked without a break. One in five said they worked more than six days in a row without taking a day off.
Leigh Day filed a complaint with the Employment Tribunal on behalf of a driver in August and another driver signed up as a customer when he made the legal action public in October. Since then, a further 390 drivers have registered with Leigh Day to take legal action from Friday morning.
Leigh Day announced the legal action on the radio and on billboards in a bid to raise awareness. Claims are made against both Amazon and up to 40 “delivery service partners”.
So far, Leigh Day said 13 individual claims had been submitted to the employment tribunals, but the law firm said the rest would be submitted over the next few months. Drivers must have delivered Amazon packages within the previous 10 weeks when registering with Leigh Day to make a claim. This means that not everyone involved is necessarily shipping for Amazon yet.
Leigh Day’s lawyer, Kate Robinson, said: “Leigh Day is acting on behalf of drivers who are asserting employee rights against Amazon. This means that drivers are asking the labor court to recognize that the way drivers work in practice and how they fit into Amazon’s business means they should be classified as employees rather than freelancers as they currently are.
“Being classed as employees would give them rights they are not currently entitled to, such as paid leave, at least the national minimum wage and a contract of employment. If the labor court finds the drivers to be employees, the claimants will return to court to decide how much compensation to award.
One of 13 claims already before an employment tribunal comes from a 29-year-old man who delivered goods for Amazon as a self-employed driver through a service partner company for about three years until last July. His suit, against both Amazon and the service provider, was filed in a labor court in December.
He said The Independent he delivered up to around 300 packages a day via a route dictated by a phone app, in grueling nine-hour shifts during which he often worked without a break because he didn’t have time. He said he was paid less than £130 per route he had to take during a shift, but had to pay £200 from his salary each week to hire his van. Drivers were paid 18p per mile for fuel, but that did not always cover the true cost, he said. He was not entitled to sick pay or vacation pay, he added.
The driver, who moved to the UK from Romania in 2017 and lives in Luton, said: ‘I was no longer happy working for Amazon because they don’t care about drivers, actually,’ said he declared, adding: “You have delivered [for] nine o’clock and you have to be fast, without taking breaks, you can’t deliver properly.
The working conditions were not always safe, he said, explaining: “It was dark, cold, dangerous areas, and I felt tired without having eaten all day. They say you can always take a break, but you end up not completing the course. Salaries could be deducted for not completing routes, he said.
During a late 2018 shift, he explained that he was “very stressed” due to the amount of packages he had to deliver and accidentally knocked them over a pole. He said he ended up having to shell out over £1,000 to pay for repairs to the hire vehicle, which was deducted in installments from his salary.
Around the same time, the driver said he was hospitalized for 12 days to be treated for a medical condition and ended up not being able to work for a month and a half. “They don’t support you at all, you don’t have sick pay or anything. You have to work, work, work,” he said, explaining that money was scarce at the time and he had to borrow from friends.
“You are self-employed but, in fact, the rules are for employees,” he argued. “It’s not fair at all, it’s the way they have to change to employ people.” Referring to Amazon’s profits, he said: “They’re getting richer and richer but, really, how do they get that?”
When asked what his message to Amazon would be, he replied, “Just to treat drivers, everyone who works for them, like employees and stop treating them like slaves.”
An Amazon spokesperson said: “We are extremely proud of the drivers who work with our partners across the country, giving our customers what they want, when they want it, wherever they are. We are committed to ensuring that these drivers are compensated fairly by the delivery companies they work with and are treated with respect, and this is reflected in the positive feedback we hear from drivers every day.