The gig economy has been lauded as a way for people to earn money with the flexibility to work their own hours and be their own boss. Or at least that's what the companies that use gig economy workers claim. The likes of Uber and Deliveroo have been regularly criticised for their attitude to so-called 'self employed' gig economy workers, with regular accusations claiming this employment status is to avoid paying staff fair wages and offering statutory benefits. Now Amazon is the latest company to come under fire.
Amazon has long been criticised for the way it treats its staff, particularly those that work in its
warehouses fulfilment centres. There are even books and plenty of news reports about the conditions faced by people inside. Often, though, they forget about the delivery people who are 'self-employed' rather than a member of Amazon's official workforce. Because of that the GMB Union is suing the retail giant for making bogus claims about courier's self employment in an attempt to deny them of the appropriate employment rights.
The lawsuit is being filed on behalf of three delivery companies used by Amazon: Prospect Commercials Limited, Box Group Limited and Lloyd Link Logistics Limited. GMB claims that at least one driver involved in the case left home at 6am and didn't return until 11pm, while still have £1 deducted from his wages for each undelivered parcel. He was also allegedly told that he wouldn't be paid if he didn't complete his route, and had sometimes driven "while half asleep at the wheel" to make sure he could get paid.
Two other claimants have requested whistleblower status, claiming they were sacked after raising concerns about the working conditions. They claimed that drivers were given too many parcels, resulting in excessive working hours or dangerous conditions; drivers had their working hours extended by being forced to wait "significant time" for their vans to be loaded; drivers drove while tired, making them a danger; and they were being paid less than their contracts entitled them too.
GMB is filing this suit against Amazon itself, because it claims the company is the one determining how drivers work., Tim Roache, GMB general secretary told TechCrunch:
“Amazon is a global company that makes billions. It’s absolutely galling that they refuse to afford the people who make that money for them even the most basic rights, pay and respect. 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.”
Amazon also released a statement to the site, saying:
Our 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.
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.
No doubt there will be a long time before this case is finished. There will be court appearances, appeals, and so on, regardless of which side actually wins. By that point the government might even have got its act together and fixed the loopholes that supposedly let companies get away with paying less than the national minimum wage. No doubt those that do will have found new ways round it by then, though, starting the cycle anew. Nevertheless, there's definitely increased scrutiny on companies and how they handle employment at various levels, and regardless of whether Amazon is guilty of exploiting workers that scrutiny should make them think twice before even considering it. [TechCrunch]