A Central London employment tribunal has ruled that a claim representing the interests of more than 1,400 Amazon delivery drivers can go ahead, refusing the employer’s application for the sample claims to be struck out.
The 1,400 claims presented to the tribunal encompassed issues around holiday pay, national minimum wage, the right to various employment particulars, breach of contact and unauthorised deductions from wages.
The drivers in question claimed that they were employees or workers for Amazon or its delivery service providers for the purposes of the Employment Rights Act 1996, and workers for the purposes of the Working Time Regulations and National Minimum Wage Act 1998.
Amazon asked the tribunal to rule that there was no reasonable prospect of success, stating that the claimants would not be able to establish that they had the relevant relationships with the business.
This is the latest in a run of similar cases taking place in the gig economy, most centring on transport business Uber. However, Amazon argued that this case differed due to the fact that in the case concerning Uber, there was a tri-partite relationship between Uber London, drivers and passengers, where passengers were the end users, whereas in this case Amazon was the end user, with the relationship being between it, the drivers and its delivery service providers.
However, the tribunal did not find that the Amazon and Uber cases were inherently opposed, but instead that the two situations were different.
Employment Judge F Spencer said: “While the various relationships may, at first sight, look like a simple outsourcing arrangement, in the absence of further information as to how the relationships work in practice I cannot conclude either that the case against Amazon has no reasonable prospect, or that it has little reasonable prospect of success.
“I do not accept that this is a case in which the issues of control, subordination and integration are irrelevant, so that there is no need for any further disclosure before being able to make a final determination as to the merits (or rather lack of merit) of the case…
“Whatever the merits or otherwise of this argument, there is little to be gained by a strike out given that, as a result of this judgment, there will need to be a detailed analysis of the relationship between all three parties in any event.”
A spokesperson for Amazon UK told Benefits Expert: “We’re hugely proud of the drivers who work with our partners across the country, getting our customers what they want, when they want, wherever they are.
“We are committed to ensuring these drivers are fairly compensated by the delivery companies they work with and are treated with respect, and this is reflected by the positive feedback we hear from drivers every day.”
Seb Maley, CEO of employment status advisory Qdos, said: “These tribunals in the gig economy are coming thick and fast. It just goes to show how much confusion there is around employment status among gig economy workers. These drivers aren’t convinced they’re self-employed and want employment rights. Amazon has a different view and claims they’re genuinely self-employed, meaning they have no obligation to provide holiday pay.
“Cases like these have the potential to get very messy and extremely expensive for all parties involved. Over the years, there have been similar issues at Uber, Deliveroo and many other gig economy platforms. The key to solving this problem is rigorously assessing employment status from the outset, ensuring all parties are in agreement before the working relationship starts.”
Julia Kermode, founder of IWORK, added: “This case may not have gone the drivers’ way yet, but the fact that it will be heard is huge news. Lots of businesses outsource to suppliers who engage self-employed workers. This case could be a catalyst for many other self-employed workers following suit, cutting out the middleman and attempting to secure employment rights from the business at the top of the chain.
“It also casts a moral spotlight on the supply chain itself. When margins are squeezed, many suppliers can’t compete and have no choice but to cut costs. A self-employed workforce can save significant overheads, which is financially attractive, but these people have no statutory protections such as paid holiday and minimum wage. And if they aren’t genuinely self-employed – able to decide how, where and when they work – then it’s exploitation. Simple as that.”