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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

In the Amazonian jungle

by New Worker correspondent

LAST WEEK we reported on struggles to organise workers at an Alabama warehouse belonging to predatory online retailer Amazon.

Here in Britain it is not only Amazon’s warehouse workers, those outside who do the delivery work are also in need of a union.

Those employed by Amazon’s sub-contracted courier companies turn out to be earning as little as £1.83 per hour in the case of Norfolk-based KMI Logistics. Amazon washes its hands of any responsibility for this because those knocking on doors are self-employed by third party companies. Drivers must pay for van hire and fuel and are liable to fines for not reaching stringent targets that can only be met by illegal practices.

Unite the union’s organiser Sharon Graham declared that: “This is 21st century Britain meets Charles Dickens. It’s awful.”

Rival union GMB also alleges that whilst Amazon controls drivers’ workload and shift patterns, it takes care to avoid responsibility for other conditions because they are self-employed and work through third parties.

Whistle-blowers told the Daily Mirror that couriers have to break the speed limit to meet targets and some drivers leave seatbelts off so they can leap out of vans quicker.

The newspaper quoted the case of Andy Cooper, an ex-oil industry manager, who was told he could make £127 per day delivering packages for Amazon. After hiring a van for £207 per week he was given just two shifts, leaving him with £48 in one week.

Unsurprisingly he resigned after three months in the job, saying: “It’s slave labour. I’d never had a speeding ticket before but I got three in three months. I’d deliver my first parcel at 7.30 am and be lucky to have done 80 by midday. Then I’d have more than 150 left to do.” To add insult to injury, he explained that undelivered parcels would be taken over by another courier but that he would then be “fined” £1 for each “failure”.

This comes at a time Amazon’s business is booming because High Street shops are closed; British sales soared by 51 per cent last year to £19.5 billion. Recently in its home country, Amazon agreed with the US Federal Trade Commission to pay out about $62 million (£45 million) to settle allegations that it cheated drivers out of tips.

In its own delivery vans, Amazon in the USA has begun using artificial intelligence-powered cameras that constantly record footage of drivers and upload any mistakes they make. Amazon claims this is an investment in safety but unions on both sides of the pond describe it as “surveillance”.

Cameras will be on all the time but will only upload footage for 16 actions, including hard braking, driver distraction and drowsiness. A Kentucky-based driver said that if someone yawns, they will be told to pull over for 15 minutes.

The British Big Brother Watch group noted that: “Amazon’s appetite for surveillance knows no bounds. This intrusive, constant monitoring of employees creates an oppressive, distrustful and disempowering work environment that completely undermines workers’ rights.” GMB added that: “Rather than gimmicks, Amazon’s new CEO should invest in making work safe for all Amazon workers and drivers.”