Amazon has become the latest high-profile employer to face legal action over bogus self-employment, as law firm Leigh Day launches a claim on behalf of thousands of workers.
The case comes after a raft of similar tribunals found workers in the ‘gig’ economy had been misled by their employers into thinking they were self-employed when in fact they fell into an employment category known as ‘limb (b) workers’ and are therefore entitled to basic rights such as the National Minimum Wage, holiday pay and rest breaks.
In 2019, the Supreme Court had the final say in such a case brought against Uber, ruling that drivers for the taxi firm were ‘workers’ and forcing the company to comply with the law.
Drivers delivering for Amazon told Leigh Day that they were not allowed the independence that truly self-employed workers would have.
For instance, they are compelled to make their deliveries within the time estimated on an Amazon-owned app, and are not allowed to return packages to the depot if they cannot be delivered, forcing them to spend money on extra fuel to attempt redelivery.
One driver, speaking under the pseudonym Bill Lightfoot, described the level of control amazon has over its workers, describing the job as “horrendous”.
“There were times I was out on delivery, and I’d stop for a few minutes, and they’d ring up and ask why I was parked up,” he said.
“The money I was earning wasn’t anywhere close to covering my rent and bills. In one week, I worked 36 hours over four days and I should have earned £464 but they gave me £2.74. It doesn’t sound believable but it’s true.”
As well as being paid a pittance, drivers are forced to cover the cost of fuel, van rental and insurance, meaning it is possible for them to work at a loss.
“Effectively I was paying them to do their deliveries, rather than the other way around,” Bill said.
Leigh Day estimates that at least 3,000 drivers could be entitled to an average of £10,500 in compensation, leaving Amazon with a £140 million bill.
“Paying out compensation of £140m sound like a large bill to foot, but for a company that turned a profit of £5.8bn in the first three months of 2021, it’s a drop in the ocean,” Kate Robinson, a solicitor for the law firm, said.
“From what we have heard from our clients, it appears that Amazon is short-changing drivers making deliveries on their behalf. This is disgraceful behaviour from a company that makes billions of pounds a year. Drivers delivering for Amazon have to work set shifts and book time off, yet Amazon claim they are self-employed,” she said.
“It’s time for Amazon to stop putting profit above people and give delivery drivers the employment rights they deserve.”