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‘What’s the rush?’ The exploitation of delivery drivers at logistics companies under pressure to meet increasing demands.

Consumers in Britain can’t get enough of online shopping – courier and express delivery sales have increased 62% since 2014, meaning that over 3.5 billion packages are delivered every single year. 

Also alarmingly, most of the delivery market share is held by Amazon and its subsidiary private logistics companies, which have boomed during the Covid-19 pandemic when retail stores and high-streets have been closed to the public. This has meant delivery drivers are under more pressure than ever to meet the delivery demand. And, scenarios like this one arise…

The delivery man or woman arrives at your door, with barely a minute’s wait between the bell ringing and you answering the door, the deliverer has gone. Your parcel is there, waiting on the doorstep for you in the rain. You see the driver running back to their van, skidding off from the pavement and hurtling down the road as though they are about to miss the birth of a new-born baby.

Now, you may feel frustrated and a little confused… you know that since the Covid-19 pandemic the driver does not need your signature, just a picture of your parcel successfully on the doorstep. But you cannot help thinking, ‘what’s the rush?’

The situation for delivery drivers

Since Royal Mail with its fair remuneration, sick leave pay, sensible working hours, and legal working conditions, has had to face up to non-unionised private companies like Amazon and Hermes, it has been finding its delivery market swept from beneath its feet. All the while Royal Mail is trying to find new ways to keep up with competitors, delivery drivers at Amazon and Hermes are scrabbling around, stressed, overworked and often earning well below the UK minimum wage

The reality is, Amazon and its competitor delivery companies have created a system whereby the managers are forcing the delivery and logistics workers into longer rounds, further distances, and demand for more efficiency. They are required to meet outrageous delivery targets, between 160 and 250 parcels a day and if the first-round was unsuccessful, they are asked to try a second time at the end of the shift. 

Unsurprisingly, delivery drivers are frantic and stressed and often therefore drive carelessly. Whether this be by leaving their vans parked ad-hocly on a pavement or in the middle of the road (for stopping and parking up properly would take too long) meaning that their engines are often left running ‘idling’ which is bad for air pollution, especially when they are diesel vans and puts pedestrians at risk; or by breaking speed limits to reach all the destinations on their route, one thing is certain: this is an irresponsible employment system.

An insider’s view

I spoke to Mark*, who works for a subsidiary company of Amazon, and who is paid minimum wage for the hours that he is driving, about 9 hours a day, to get a better picture of some of the issues he is dealing with.

He highlighted that he is paid nothing for the essential work that goes on before and after his shift, he has to check the van for damage, pick up the packages and put them in his van and then at the end of his shift he has to sort through the remaining packages and boxes to put back in the warehouse, none of which he is paid for.

Mark and other drivers expressed dismay over the management and set up of the delivery teams. 

Mark stated: “I am given a route with 160 stops – they expect I can deliver about 18 parcels an hour, but that does not account for getting to and from the delivery area, nor traffic, NOR ANY BREAK, so I have to work for at least 9 hours straight to get it all done.”

If I don’t deliver all the packages, which is nearly impossible to do so, then the whole team cannot get the weekly bonus.”

What are the delivery drivers’ rights?

Amazon and other delivery companies rely on their workers’ being self-employed, on 0-hours contracts or to be employed via a subsidiary company in order to ‘avoid responsibility’ for enforcing their rights.

When the driver is ‘self-employed’, they forfeit their rights to: 

  • statutory sick pay
  • maternity, adoption and paternity leave and pay
  • the right not to be unfairly dismissed
  • statutory redundancy pay
  • the National Minimum Wage
  • rest breaks, paid holiday and limits on night work
  • protection against unauthorised deductions from pay

There have been strong legal challenges arguing that Amazon and its subsidiary companies be held liable for denying the contracted workers their rights to safe working conditions, National Minimum Wage, and sick pay on the basis of mis-labelling the workers as ‘self-employed’. 

But the fact remains, delivery drivers continue to be heavily exploited.

What can you do to help?

  1. Reserve your frustration with the way your package has been delivered. The driver likely has no time to talk or wait around – they need the job for the money, but to be remunerated they must meet outrageous targets and are therefore in a rush.
    Consider purchasing goods online from other places.
  2. Do not be afraid to pay extra for delivery – it is more likely the delivery company is cooperating fairly with its workers and paying them a fair wage.
  3. Re-assess whether you need Amazon Prime, or another next-day delivery subscription as this puts the drivers under a lot of extra pressure.
  4. If you are going to buy from these companies, make sure you are present in your home and listening for the van during the indicated time slot.
*Mark gave EarthRights written permission to use his real name, quote his views and feature his photograph (at the top) in this blog post.
Melanie Désert

Co-founder and Co-producer