Amazon: new legal challenge could cost firm £140 million

Law firm Leigh Day has launched a potentially £140 million compensation claim on behalf of Amazon drivers working as 'delivery service partners'.

Classed as self-employed, Amazon delivery service 'partners' don’t have an employment contract, and they aren’t entitled to rights such as holiday pay or the minimum wage.  

However, Leigh Day has argued that working terms set by Amazon for these partners, including delivery time targets, mean they should be entitled to more rights.

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Delivery driver Bill Lightfoot (not his real name), told the law firm that if he stopped for a few minutes when making a delivery, Amazon would call him to ask why he had parked up.

Lightfoot also reported receiving just £2.74 in payment for working 36 hours for the company over four days.

“From what we have heard from our clients it appears that Amazon is short-changing drivers making deliveries on their behalf,” commented Kate Robinson, a solicitor in the employment team at Leigh Day.

“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.”

Speaking to HR magazine Dave Chaplin, CEO of IR35 Shield, explained that the case will hinge on the classification of Amazon’s delivery service partners, i.e. whether a worker is an employee or self-employed.

"These cases are very fact-specific, and we've seen some Uber drivers get classed as workers by the Supreme Court, but we also saw the recent Court of Appeal case for Deliveroo where the individuals were classed as self-employed, because the provision of personal service was not established,” said Chaplin.

After personal service is established, Chaplin said it then becomes a question of control.

"The status battleground moves into the area of control, and questions will be asked whether Amazon is controlling the workers sufficiently to constitute a master-servant type relationship,” he said.

The question of control is complicated by the way technology is used to distribute/monitor work, he added.

“The advancement of technological devices to aid productivity of the drivers introduces this danger on status, because it can be construed as control-by-proxy of the workers, particularly if reward mechanisms are included to coerce the individuals to make themselves available for work,” Chaplin said.

If the obligation to stand by and be available for work gigs is implied it could then become exploitation, he said.

"Parliament needs to step in, decide what kind of society we want around gig working, and legislate accordingly,” he said. “For years this has been kept in the ‘too-hard to tackle’ section of potential policy making."

Leigh Day’s group action has been launched on the behalf on two Amazon drivers, but the firm believes at least 3,000 drivers could be affected, racking up a total potential compensation of £140 million.