Staff have so little time for food or toilet stops they snatch hurried meals on the run and urinate into plastic bottles they keep in their vans
Drivers are being asked to deliver up to 200 parcels a day for Amazon while earning less than the minimum wage, a Sunday Mirror investigation reveals today.
I hopped in a white van to spend a day with one driver and experience first-hand the intolerable pressures they face from “impossible” schedules.
Many routinely exceed the legal maximum shift of 11 hours and finish their days dead on their feet.
Yet they have so little time for food or toilet stops they snatch hurried meals on the run and urinate into plastic bottles they keep in their vans.
They say they often break speed limits to meet targets that take no account of delays such as ice, traffic jams or road closures.
Many claim they are employed in a way that means they have no rights to holiday or sickness pay.
And some say they take home as little as £160 for a five-day week amid conditions described by one lawyer as “almost Dickensian”.
Our expose comes three weeks after a Sunday Mirror undercover probe highlighted life inside Amazon’s biggest European packing plant.
Now the Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency has vowed to investigate after drivers contacted them to complain about conditions.
And a legal firm which led the case against taxi giant Uber is also representing seven drivers who say agencies used by Amazon are mistreating them.
One solicitor last night branded the drivers’ plight “horrendous”.
The delivery giant, which makes £7.3billion a year, does not employ them directly but uses an army of agencies instead. These agencies recruit drivers who work via an Amazon app and follow a delivery route set by the company.
Yet many of those carrying out the deliveries are so concerned by the job they are asked to do that they are blowing the whistle on standards.
Their claims are a world away from Amazon’s slick Christmas ad campaign, in which boxes are shown zipping around a spotless warehouse to the tune of Supertramp’s hit Give a Little Bit before going off on a “magical adventure”.
A number of drivers from Prospect Commercial Ltd, a Kent-based company which operates across the UK, raised concerns about the work they do from Amazon’s Sheffield depot.
They say they earn a fixed rate of £103 a route each day, while being offered van hire and insurance costing £200 a week.
They claim they are working as long as 12 hours each day, sometimes as much as 14 – despite UK law dictating that drivers must not be on duty for more than 11 hours in any working day. One 50-year-old worker told us he took home just £160 after forking out for van costs plus £140-worth of fuel, reimbursed later at 16p per mile.
Amazon claim the routes are calculated using “sophisticated software” which takes into account speed limits and traffic patterns.
But agency workers denied the system allowed for traffic jams or factored in time for breaks. Steven Eckett, head of employment at solicitors Meaby and Co, said: “These workers deliver Amazon packages, collected from an Amazon depot and are given a route designed by Amazon. They are Amazon workers in all but name.
“But Amazon are trying to distance themselves from the workers to circumvent employment law. This needs to be challenged.”
The speed at which drivers must go to hit targets has prompted many to contact the DVSA, which is also investigating claims they are exhausted and have to urinate in bottles.
One worker told us: “Amazon sent an email to all managers to try to stop drivers carrying bottles filled with urine. The security guards were reporting people for it.
“But the allocation and number of stops, and the volume to be distributed for any given day, lies entirely with Amazon.”
Solicitors from Leigh Day are representing seven former drivers who claim agencies mistreated them.
Employment law specialist Nigel Mackay has laid out a raft of employment complaints and claimed the workers are “mislabelled” as self-employed so bosses can deny them rights. And a leading union has called on Amazon’s US founder Jeff Bezos, 53, the world’s richest man who last year made £1.6million an hour, to do more to support agency workers.
Maria Ludkin, legal director of the GMB union said: “Employers might not like paying the minimum wage or giving their workers the protections they’re entitled to in the workplace, but it’s not optional. We don’t get to pick and choose which laws we adhere to and which we don’t like.”
An Amazon spokesman told the Sunday Mirror: “Over 100 businesses across the UK are providing work opportunities to thousands of people delivering parcels to customers. We are committed to ensuring that the people contracted by our independent delivery providers are fairly compensated, treated with respect, follow all applicable laws and driving regulations and drive safely.
“Our delivery providers are expected to ensure drivers receive a minimum £12 per hour before deductions and excluding bonuses, incentives and fuel reimbursements.”
An Amazon spokesman added: “As independent contractors of our delivery providers, drivers deliver at their own pace, take breaks at their discretion, and are able to choose the suggested route or develop their own.”
A spokesman for Prospect Commercial Ltd said: “We work hard to provide a good service and supportive work environment for our self-employed contracted drivers.
“We provide competitive compensation to contracted drivers, who receive a rate in excess of the national living wage after deductions, and this is regularly audited.”
Drivers should get same rights as all others
We represent drivers working for a number of different companies but their jobs are very similar – they all involve delivering parcels for Amazon.
In claims being brought by the GMB trade union for their members, we are arguing that these drivers are being wrongly denied basic employment rights, such as minimum wage or holiday pay, and that they are having their pay docked for no proper reason. The drivers, who work out of Amazon’s depots, are expected to be available on demand and at Christmas time this can involve six-day or seven-day weeks.
Amazon provides the drivers with the route they must follow and there are strict conditions on how they should deliver parcels.
If the drivers return to the Amazon depot without having made enough attempts to deliver parcels, or if they can’t work for any reason, they risk having their pay cut, being fined or denied future shifts.
Because of this the drivers, who get paid a flat daily rate, can end up working extremely long days, often without breaks. Their resulting hourly rate can be very low, once you take into account expensive van rental agreements and the cost of fuel.
How can Amazon get away with this? Because it uses sub-contractors to employ these drivers, keeping them at arm’s length.
On top of that, the companies they use treat their drivers as self-employed independent contractors, similar to how Uber treats its drivers – which an employment tribunal has already held to be unlawful in another claim brought by the GMB.
The union is arguing that in reality the drivers delivering Amazon parcels are employees who should be given the rights they are entitled to.
We would like to clarify that Amazon provide incentives to their staff throughout the year.
A spokesman said: “The events and prizes e.g. bands, DJs, etc. (being cited) as a response to the original story are standard practice over the past several years during extra busy times like peak holiday season.
“Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace for thousands of people across the UK with competitive pay and benefits from day one.
“We are committed to treating every one of our associates with dignity and respect. We don’t recognise these allegations as an accurate portrayal of activities in our buildings.
“As with nearly all companies, we expect a certain level of performance from our associates and we continue to set productivity targets objectively, based on previous performance levels achieved by our workforce.”
In response to claims of timed toilet breaks, he added: “Associates are allowed to use the toilet whenever needed. We do not monitor toilet breaks.”
He also said they pay staff above the living wage in all their sites and have always done.