Amazon delivery drivers 'feel compelled to defecate in vans' to save time

Company with contract to deliver for retail giant says 'we have made changes to the way our checks are carried out and taken a number of steps to improve our ways of working'

Charlotte England
Saturday 12 November 2016 13:47 GMT
Last year Amazon sold more than 7.4 million items during the Black Friday sales
Last year Amazon sold more than 7.4 million items during the Black Friday sales (Getty)

Drivers delivering parcels for online retail giant Amazon often work more hours than is legally allowed and earn below the national minimum wage, an undercover reporter has claimed.

Workers for delivery businesses contracted by the company told a BBC journalist they were expected to deliver up to 200 parcels a day, completing a fixed route.

In order to meet the company’s expectations, some van drivers said they felt compelled to break speed limits and urinate and defecate in their vehicles.

Even when they did not take breaks, drivers, including the undercover reporter, claimed they regularly worked for more than 11 hours per day, exceeding the legal limit placed by EU law on people who drive goods vehicles as their job.

Amazon told the BBC it was committed to ensuring drivers worked safely and legally, and were “fairly compensated”.

Amazon Logistics, the firm's delivery wing, contract drivers through more than 100 independent delivery companies. The undercover journalist, who has not been named, infilitrated the company by getting a job with one these companies, AHC Services.

The reporter worked for two weeks at Amazon’s Avonmouth depot in Bristol, where he was paid a fixed rate of £110 per daily route.

After deductions, including optional van hire for a week and insurance, he took home only £93.47 for three days' work, including at least one shift exceeding 11 hours. This is equal to £2.59 per hour.

When he worked four days in his second week, he received £4.76 per hour.

Several other drivers said they took home less per hour than the national minimum wage because they had to work such long hours to deliver all the packages they were assigned.

Some agency staff said the system did not allow for traffic jams, let alone factor in time for breaks. For this reason, some workers said they sometimes had to defecate in bags and urinate in bottles rather than stopping to find a toilet.

The journalist said he was expected to be available to work six days a week. He found the long hours impacted his relationship and family life.

He also said other drivers told him they drove at 120 mph on the motorway in order to complete their deliveries in a day.

A former driver who delivered parcels for Amazon, Charlie Chikaviro, told the BBC the pressure to deliver all his assigned packages left him with no choice but to speed.

“I had to, the way it was designed. You're going to have to do that,” he said.

“I had a few crashes... but not bad crashes.”

Cody Cooper, a former supervisor who left AHC Services a year ago, told the broadcaster she ordered one driver, who fell asleep at the wheel, to stop driving because she feared he could “end up killing someone”.

“It was coming up to school time and there could [have been] a group of schoolchildren walking along... and he could have steered off,” she said.

“I wasn't willing to live with that.”

Agency drivers working for Amazon Logistics are all self-employed, and therefore not entitled to the minimum wage or employment rights like sick pay or holiday pay. A similar model is used by major courier companies like CitySprint, Hermes, and eCourier, and is often referred to as symptomatic of the “gig economy”.

Tonia Novitz, professor of labour law at Bristol University, told the BBC that in her opinion drivers contracted by AHC should not be classed as self-employed, because they do not determine their own routes, days of work or rest periods.

“From the evidence I've seen, which suggests [the undercover reporter] would be regarded as a worker or agency worker, he should be getting the national minimum wage,” she said.

In a statement, Amazon said: “As independent contractors of our delivery providers, drivers deliver at their own pace, take breaks at their discretion, and are able to choose the suggestion route or develop their own.”

The company said it expected drivers to be paid a minimum of £12 an hour “before bonuses, incentives and fuel reimbursements”, and it required independent delivery providers to ensure drivers were fully licensed and insured and obeyed “all applicable traffic and safety laws”.

In the past six months, drivers drove a daily average of 8.5 hours and were on duty for 9.1 hours, it added.

Oxford-based AHC said the claims put to them by the BBC were “historic and based on isolated examples which occurred over a year ago”.

“Since then we have made changes to the way our checks are carried out and taken a number of steps to improve our ways of working," it said.

The firm said it took road safety and the welfare of its contracted drivers “extremely seriously”, and that drivers were free to choose when they worked.

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