The GMB has announced that it will take legal action against three Amazon delivery companies over their classification of drivers as self-employed.
The case is the latest in a series of gig economy legal cases brought by the union since it won the landmark judgment against Uber in 2016.
The legal action being taken by GMB is on behalf of members carrying out work for Prospect Commercials, Box Group and Lloyd Link Logistics.
The claimants all worked for the companies as couriers, delivering packages on behalf of Amazon.
The GMB claims that the drivers were actually employees, and the companies used the self-employment model to wrongly deny them rights such as the national minimum wage and holiday pay.
The drivers were required to work scheduled shifts controlled by Amazon, meaning they did not have the flexibility that many would consider integral to being self-employed. In this situation, argues the GMB, the couriers were treated like employees in terms of their working hours, and they should be treated as employees in terms of their rights, too.
Some of the claims are being made directly against Amazon because the GMB considers it was the online retail giant that determined how the drivers should work. In these cases, the drivers said they were dismissed because of their whistleblowing. They claimed their roles were terminated because they raised concerns about working practices, for example, that the number of parcels allocated to drivers resulted in excessive hours and driving unsafely to meet targets.
The whistleblowers also alleged that drivers were being underpaid and not receiving the amounts that they were contractually entitled to.
One of the drivers who is involved in the case told the GMB how he once left the house at 6am, and did not return until 11pm at night, yet still had £1 per undelivered parcel deducted from his wages.
A driver also reported that he had been told by his employer to complete a route and so had sometimes driven when “half asleep at the wheel” in order to ensure he got paid.
GMB general secretary Tim Roache said: “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.”
Jeremy Coy, associate at Russell-Cooke solicitors, said: “There is a misconception that labelling staff as self-employed and paying them without deducting tax will ensure that they do not acquire the rights of workers or employees. This is not the case. What is important is the nature of the relationship between the organisation and the individual.”
He added: “Factors which are usually taken into account in determining employment status are whether the individual is obligated to do the work they are offered and whether the organisation is required to provide the individual with work.
“Another consideration is the degree of control which the organisation exercises over the individual, for example by telling him or her where and when to work and how to do the job.”
Amazon said it expected its delivery firms to pay drivers a minimum of £12 an hour, “follow all applicable laws and driving regulations and drive safely”.