Danny McCance 31 Mar 2017 12:34pm

GMB launches legal action against Amazon supplier

The UK’s general trade union has filed a legal claim against UK Express on behalf of workers at the online retailer

In what has been dubbed an “Uber style” case, the union is addressing issues of so-called self-employment and gig-economy exploitation by UK Express, the logistics company used by Amazon for deliveries.

The case follows the union’s landmark victory against Uber at the end of last year. As a result of that case, Uber drivers are now entitled to basic worker’s rights, including holiday pay, a guaranteed minimum wage and an entitlement to breaks, which workers classed as self-employed are not.

“Uber drivers and thousands of others caught in the bogus self-employment trap will now enjoy the same rights as employees”, Maria Ludkin, legal director of GMB, said at the time of the Uber ruling.

The union claims the UK Express drivers fall into the same category as Uber drivers and, rather than being self-employed, should be classed as workers. The self-employed workforce has grown by nearly 50% since the start of the century, while earnings for the self-employed have fallen by around £60 a week over the same period.

"The drivers delivering for Amazon – like Uber drivers and delivery drivers for DX – cannot be classed as anything other than employed when you look at the law,” claimed Ludkin.

“We believe UK Express drivers are workers who are being denied their rights, including paid holiday and the national minimum wage, due to being mislabeled by UK Express as self-employed,” added Nigel Mackay, a lawyer in the employment team at Leigh Day, the legal representatives on the case.

"UK Express is paid by Amazon to deliver its parcels. We believe Amazon should require its contractors to provide workers with their legal entitlements, including paid holiday and the National Minimum Wage, and to stop fining staff if they are unable to work.”

The reasons GMB claims the drivers are workers and not self-employed include Amazon imposing control over drivers regarding routes, penalties for poor performance and a requirement for them to pay for the van hired by the company.

Drivers are also required to be available for 15 days per month; are subject to deduction in pay if they are not able to work and are prohibited against working for a competitor.

“Employers might not like paying the minimum wage or giving their workers the protections they’re entitled to in the workplace, but I’m afraid it’s not optional,” Ludkin said. "We don’t get to pick and choose which laws we adhere to and which we don’t like the look of.”

On Wednesday Jeff Bezos, founder and owner of Amazon, became the world’s second richest man after Amazon stocks rose $18.62 (£14.94). Bezos has a net worth of $75.6bn on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.