Amazon warehouse workers in Europe stage ‘we are not robots’ protests

Amazon warehouse workers in several countries in Europe are protesting over what they claim are inhuman working conditions which treat people like robots. It’s the latest in a series of worker actions this year. They’ve timed the latest protest for Black Friday, one of the busiest annual shopping days online as retailers slash prices and heavily […]

Amazon warehouse workers in several countries in Europe are protesting over what they claim are inhuman working conditions which treat people like robots. It’s the latest in a series of worker actions this year.

They’ve timed the latest protest for Black Friday, one of the busiest annual shopping days online as retailers slash prices and heavily promote deals to try to spark a seasonal buying rush.

In the UK, the GMB Union says it’s expecting hundreds of workers to attend protests timed for early morning and afternoon at Amazon warehouses in Rugeley, Milton Keynes, Warrington, Peterborough and Swansea.

At the time of writing the union had not provided details of turnout so far today. 

Protests are also reported to be taking place in Spain, France and Italy today.

Although, when asked about strikes at its facilities in these countries, Amazon claimed: “Our European Fulfilment Network is fully operational and we continue to focus on delivering for our customers. Any reports to the contrary are simply wrong.”

The demonstrations look intended to not only apply pressure on Amazon to accept collective bargaining but encourage users of its website to think about the wider costs involved in packing and despatching the discounted products they’re trying to grab.

Spanish newspaper El Diaro reports that today’s protests by workers at Amazon’s largest logistics center in the country, in San Fernando, Madrid, mark the fourth round of strikes over working conditions in Spain.

Protestors in Madrid this morning reportedly chanted: “We will not accept discounts to our rights.”

French press also reports warehouse workers striking locally, and a union representing Amazon logistics workers calling for a national strike.

In the UK the GMB Union is calling on Amazon to recognize its representation of workers, and has attacked the company for what it dubs “Victorian working practices”. 

This summer an investigation by the Union revealed ambulances had been called to Amazon’s UK warehouses 600 times during the past three financial years.

Earlier this month the Union also revealed a total of 602 reports have been made from Amazon warehouses to the Health and Safety Executive since 2015/16 — with workers reported to have suffered fractures, head injuries, contusions and collisions with heavy equipment.

It added that one report detailed a forklift truck crash caused by a ‘lapse of concentration possibly due to long working hours’.

In a statement on Wednesday announcing the Black Friday protest, Tim Roache, the GMB’s general secretary, said: “The conditions our members at Amazon are working under are frankly inhuman. They are breaking bones, being knocked unconscious and being taken away in ambulances. We’re standing up and saying enough is enough, these are people making Amazon its money. People with kids, homes, bills to pay — they’re not robots.”

“Jeff Bezos is the richest bloke on the planet; he can afford to sort this out,” he added. “You’d think making the workplace safer so people aren’t carted out of the warehouse in an ambulance is in everyone’s interest, but Amazon seemingly have no will to get round the table with us as the union representing hundreds of their staff. Working people and the communities Amazon operates in deserve better than this. That’s what we’re campaigning for.”

In a further update today the GMB Union said Amazon has not replied to a joint plea, backed by a shadow minister, for a health and safety review to reduce the hundreds of ambulance call outs to its warehouses.

Two UK MPs wrote to Amazon’s director of public policy for UK and Ireland last week to suggest a joint audit with the union and also a meeting hosted by them in parliament — to discuss the issues. But the union said Amazon has so far failed to respond.

Responding to today’s protest action, a spokesman for Amazon UK provided us with the following statement:

Amazon has created in the UK more than 25,000 good jobs with a minimum of £9.50/hour and in the London area, £10.50/hour on top of industry-leading benefits and skills training opportunities.

All of our sites are safe places to work and reports to the contrary are simply wrong. According to the UK Government’s Health and Safety Executive, Amazon has over 40% fewer injuries on average than other transportation and warehousing companies in the UK. We encourage everyone to compare our pay, benefits, and working conditions to others and come see for yourself on one of the public tours we offer every day at our centers across the UK uk.amazonfctours.com.

The spokesman declined to respond to additional questions.

In October, facing rising political pressure on its home turf after senator Bernie Sanders introduced legislation targeting low rates of pay at the coal face of Amazon’s business, the ecommerce giant said it would raise the minimum wage of its US workers to $15 per hour. That change went into effect at the start of this month.

In another change to its business announced yesterday, also just before the Black Friday spending binge kicked off, Amazon reversed a decision that had been triggered by a change in Australian tax law earlier this year, when it had shuttered its US store to shoppers in the country to avoid paying a 10% levy — deciding to suck up the charge to lift a geoblock that had proved unpopular with customers.

Uber back in court in UK to argue against workers rights for drivers

Uber is back in court in the UK today and tomorrow to try once again to overturn a  two year old employment tribunal ruling that judged a group of Uber drivers to be workers — meaning they’re entitled to workers benefits such as holiday pay, paid rest breaks and the national minimum wage. Uber lost its first […]

Uber is back in court in the UK today and tomorrow to try once again to overturn a  two year old employment tribunal ruling that judged a group of Uber drivers to be workers — meaning they’re entitled to workers benefits such as holiday pay, paid rest breaks and the national minimum wage.

Uber lost its first appeal against the ruling last year but has said it will continue to appeal.

On Sunday the GMB Union calculated that Uber drivers in the UK are £18,000 out of pocket as a result of the company continuing to fight the rights judgement, rather than paying the additional entitlements.

In a statement Sue Harris, GMB legal director, said: “These figures lay bare the human cost of Uber continuing to refuse to accept the ruling of the courts. While the company are wasting money losing appeal after appeal, their drivers are up to £18,000 out of pocket for the last two years alone.

“That’s thousands of drivers struggling to pay their rent, or feed their families. It’s time Uber admits defeat and pays up. The company needs to stop wasting money dragging its lost cause through the courts. Instead, Uber should do the decent thing and give drivers the rights to which those courts have already said they are legally entitled.”

Uber has previously suggested it would cost its UK business “tens of millions” of pounds if it reclassified the circa 50,000 ‘self-employed’ drivers operating on its platform as Limb (b) workers — an existing employment categorization that sits between ‘self-employed’ and ‘worker’.

The GMB Union notes that in Uber London’s latest accounts, released last week, it warns shareholders that it faces “numerous legal and regulatory risks”, both pertaining to existing regulations and the development of new regulations, as well as as a result of “claims and litigation” related to its classification of drivers as independent contractors.

This year the UK government has signalled a high level intent to bolster rights for more types of workers.

In February it announced a package of labor market reforms intended to respond to changing working patterns — saying it would expand workers rights for millions of workers and touting tighter enforcement.

Though it continues to consult on the issue, to shape the detail of its response, and it’s likely the Uber litigation will feed into government thinking given the timing of the case.

This month Uber drivers in the UK staged a one-day strike over pay and conditions, piling more pressure on the issue and calling for the company to immediately apply the tribunal judgement and implement employment conditions that respect worker rights for drivers.

Uber responded by pointing to changes it has made since the original tribunal ruling — including expanding a free insurance product it now offers to drivers and couriers across Europe.

It also claims to have changed how it takes feedback from drivers, and flagged a number of tweaks to its app it claims help drivers access data insights to boost their earnings.

We’ve reached out to Uber for comment on the latest stage of its appeal.

The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which is defending the tribunal judgement at the hearings this week, backing former Uber drivers and co-claimants Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar, who brought the original case, has organized a demonstration to coincide with the hearing.

It says it expects hundreds of “precarious workers” — i.e. people who labor in the so-called ‘gig economy’ — to march through London in solidarity with the drivers and demand an end to all work that undermines workers rights.

The march is also being backed by the left-leaning UK political organization Momentum, the Communications Workers Union, War On Want, Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union and United Voices of the World, among others.

A parallel event is being held in Glasgow to coincide with the hearing.

Commenting in a statement, IWGB United Private Hire Drivers branch chair and Uber case co-claimant Farrar said: “It’s two years since we beat Uber at the Employment Tribunal, yet minicab drivers all over the UK are still waiting for justice, while Uber exhausts endless appeals. As the government ignores this mounting crisis, it’s been left to workers to fix this broken system and bring rogue bosses to account. If anything gives me hope, it is the rising tide of precarious workers that are organising and demanding a fair deal.”

IWGB general secretary Jason Moyer Lee added: “Precarious workers are getting hammered in this country. The protest is the articulation of the legitimate grievance of those who are being denied the basic rights and dignities at work that we should all be able to take for granted.”

UberEats UK couriers striking over pay changes

Groups of UberEats couriers are continuing to strike over pay and calling for a minimum £5 per delivery fee. Several strikes have been reported in London over the past few days, as well as other UK cities including Glasgow, Cardiff and Plymouth. Late last week Uber revealed a new pay structure which shrinks the per […]

Groups of UberEats couriers are continuing to strike over pay and calling for a minimum £5 per delivery fee. Several strikes have been reported in London over the past few days, as well as other UK cities including Glasgow, Cardiff and Plymouth.

Late last week Uber revealed a new pay structure which shrinks the per delivery fee it pays gig economy workers carrying out food deliveries on its platform in London, Manchester and Birmingham — to just £2.50.

Adding on the £1.50 per mile fee Uber also gives UberEats couriers means the new minimum delivery fee couriers can expect is just £3.50 — down from the £4 Uber was previously offering UberEats couriers in cities such as Manchester.

The change to its pay structure has triggered a number of wildcat strikes in recent days, with couriers reportedly stopping fulfilling orders and gathering to protest in groups — including outside Uber’s Aldgate East London office.

Additional strikes have been scheduled for today.

Uber says a reduction in the per delivery fee it pays couriers is necessary in order to increase the amount it pays out during busier periods and areas — under its so called ‘Boost’ system.

Boost adds a multiplier to couriers’ pay, depending on order demand. And according to an email Uber sent to couriers last week, which was reviewed by TechCrunch, the company says couriers have been unhappy with Boost, as is — saying they have told it multipliers are “too low and not available in enough places”.

Uber says it talked to “over 300 delivery partners in London” — and was “consistently” told Boost is not helping couriers “make more money the way it’s supposed to”.

As a result it says it’s boosting Boost. “With the new fares and planned Boost multipliers, earning potential is expected to be higher during busy periods and areas than it is today,” it writes.

However it concedes that the new pay structure may shrink couriers’ earnings outside the busy periods that are covered by Boost.

“With the new fees, this also means that payments may be lower outside of typical mealtimes or in quieter areas, when there are fewer orders waiting to be picked up,” it writes.

“It makes sense that more money is available to be made during mealtimes and busy areas, something we’ve heard partners recognise, and is reflected in these changes. We recommend partners check for Boost in the partner app before going online. That’s the best indication of when and where we expect to see demand for food delivery.”

Uber is also not quantifying exactly how much of an increase couriers will get under the new increased Boost multiplier. Nor exactly how Boost’s availability is being expanded as claimed (we’ve asked Uber to clarify the expansion of Boost and it told us it will send more details within a hour; we’ll update this report when we have them).

This is likely because Boost is a moving target — with a dynamic “live map” in couriers’ apps showing “the current Boosts for each zone”.

Uber’s explainer of the feature also notes that the multipliers “will change based on the time of day, and the day of the week, to help show you when and where it’s expected to be busiest”. (It gives example of 1.5x and 2x Boosts on its website — but without greater transparency from the company it’s impossible to know how representative those multipliers are or are not.)

So Uber making opaque Boost ‘increases’ at the same time as delivering a big reduction to per delivery fees make it pretty easy to see why riders are not happy.

The company has tried to smooth the way for the pay structure tweaks by offering a temporary minimum payment guarantee (for the next six weeks; until November 4) to offer couriers an earnings back-stop — in case they do not earn up to the peak minimums it expects them to (between £9p/h and £11 p/h, depending on time/day).

If couriers don’t earn the listed minimums Uber says it will “top them up” to the stated amounts.

However this top-up also comes with caveats and conditions and is not universally available to all couriers — with the following restrictions applied, according to Uber’s email to couriers:

To receive a minimum payment guarantee per hour, for every hour a partner spends online during an incentive period, they need to 1) confirm at least 80% of delivery requests received by them; and 2) complete at least one delivery.

“Of course, partners are entirely free to choose if, when and where to go online and whether or not they want to participate in this incentive,” the company adds — a caveat that’s essential given Uber does not want the thousands of “delivery partners” it relies upon to fulfil orders being legally classified as workers, rather than the independent contractors it claims they are.

How tightly a company controls labor can determine employment classifications. And worker status for riders on gig economy food delivery platforms would load millions in additional costs onto these businesses, regionally — such as meaning they’d be required to pay the UK minimum wage plus additional benefits such as holiday and sick pay.

(A legal challenge to Deliveroo’s employment classification of riders last year was not successful. However the UK high court recently agreed a union could challenge its opposition to collective bargaining — on human rights grounds.)

How platform companies use technology to manage remote workforces of contractors is certainly facing increasing legal scrutiny in Europe.

Uber lost a 2016 employment tribunal in the UK brought by a group of drivers for its ride-hailing business — who the courts judged to be workers, not contractors. (Though Uber continues to appeal.)

One of the key selling points gig economy platforms shout about when trying to attract fresh ‘partners’ to fulfil their platform propositions is the claim they offer ‘flexible’ work opportunities. But exactly how much real-world flexibility there is if earnings are so tightly tied to demand at least starts to look debatable.

Being free to work for a pittance unless you work within narrow and shifting hours of peak demand doesn’t sound quite so ‘free’ — and looks rather more precarious.

There’s also growing political awareness (again, at least in Europe) that individuals gigging via platforms risk being exploited by asymmetrical platform power — as a recent report into rival food delivery platform Deliveroo, carried out by UK MP Frank Field, suggested.

Field likened Deliveroo’s model to casual labor practices at British dockyards until the middle of the 20th century — with a few winning out at the expense of very many more who lose out.

UberEats pay structure changes suggest couriers willing and able to work during peak periods might gain but only at the expense of those who can’t deliver what the algorithm wants.

In an FAQ about the new pay structure for UberEats, Uber couches the amendments as designed to help riders “make the most out of your time spent on the app”, writing: “While the minimum fees have been reduced, we’ve also increased Boost multipliers and made it available in more parts of the city during busy mealtimes. We believe this will allow you to make better earnings when restaurants have the greatest need for your service, and make the most out of your time spent on the app.”

“We’ll also be hosting Earnings Advice Sessions, where our Experts will provide tips on how to maximise your time online. Be on the lookout for more information on how to sign up for one of those sessions,” it adds, showing how the company is offering casual sessions intended to encourage certain work patterns among giggers — while continuing to assert they are just independent contractors, not more tightly controlled workers.

The GMB Union, which is backing UberEats’ couriers’ calls for a £5 per delivery fee and holding a protest outside Uber’s office today, said it’s expecting 1,000 drivers to join in the demonstration.

The union criticised Uber for “heaping more misery on drivers with reductions masked as increases” under the new pay structure. “People now expect food to be delivered on demand without the human cost that goes with such a service,” added regional officer Steve Garelick in a statement. “Uber must sit up and listen to those who provide this service.”

Two years ago Deliveroo couriers staged similar strike protests after the company trialed a new pricing structure.