Tom* started working for Amazon as a delivery van driver in Norfolk nearly three years ago. Since then, his rates of pay have been revised numerous times, including at least four changes since September. He and his partner are probably going to have to abandon hopes of buying a home together, as the money Amazon had promised was not sustained.
“All of us are constantly terrified of never having enough money to survive,” he said. “It really is the most toxic industry.”
Amazon is the largest private parcel courier in the UK, delivering 15% of the estimated 5.4bn packages in 2021 – the equivalent of more than 2m items a day. They range from Prime next-day deliveries to the last mile of packages shipped from thousands of miles away in China or India. Volumes rose dramatically during the pandemic, and again as the British economy reopened and competition for labour to meet demand during the rush last Christmas led Amazon and other employers to increase rates of pay.
To deliver a service of this scale and complexity, Amazon relies on a network of thousands of drivers. Rather than keeping these workers on its books, it manages them through what are called delivery service providers, small companies that handle groups of drivers, who work as self-employed independent contractors with no right to holiday pay, sick pay or the “national living wage”.
Now the winter rush is over, Amazon drivers are raising the alarm, reporting significant drops in pay and in the number of shifts being offered, while others say petrol payments have not increased to reflect soaring fuel prices.
Hourly rates are on average just over £14.60 per hour – about £2 an hour less, or 12% below, rates in October and November during the Black Friday and pre-Christmas rush. Some drivers say pay was cut back in December and others in January or February, despite a nationwide shortages of skilled workers.
Drivers say they have been handed a pay cut equivalent to an average £20 a day from the temporary “peak” rates introduced in October despite, some say, being asked to deliver up to 60 more parcels per shift.
Pavlina Draganova of campaign group Organise said that while pay was returning to the same levels as before the Christmas peak season, for many it still represented a real-terms cut.
“We’re in quite a different world now than we were last summer, and even if the salary now is the same [per hour] as it was then, this is a real-terms pay cut in the face of soaring inflation and rising petrol prices, that is only likely to become more untenable in the coming months,” she said.
More than 39,000 people have signed a petition via Organise – more than 250 of whom are Amazon workers – calling on the online retailer to review pay rates.
“As delivery drivers we are exhausted, we’ve worked tirelessly through a pandemic only to come out of the other side and receive a kick in the teeth,” the petition says.
Drivers say rates of pay are constantly fluctuating – with one driver experiencing five different changes in day rates since September while others had had two or three adjustments in that time. The uncertainty makes it hard to budget.
Several drivers who said while they had not seen a drop in daily pay compared with pre-“peak” levels, they were getting one or two fewer shifts each week. Some said shifts were being dropped or offered at very short notice, making it difficult to plan ahead.
Rates of pay can differ radically around the country, as small groups of drivers are managed by small companies known as “delivery service partners”, rather than directly by Amazon.
Drivers receive just over £14 per hour on paper, but many say they work longer than the hours they are paid. They say “a nine hour delivery round” does not include time waiting to load vans or dealing with undelivered parcels at the end of the day. While some drivers said their driving time was only eight hours, more said they were likely to spend 10 hours on the road including re-deliveries and hold-ups such as traffic jams and parking.
Drivers also have to pay costs such as insurance, van rental and maintenance, as well as parking tickets, which are often an unavoidable part of completing a job.
They get extra for fuel but say the per-mile rate doesn’t always cover actual costs, particularly since the increase in fuel prices. Several drivers said they received 21p per mile in fuel payments but would need at least 25p per mile to cover their actual costs as petrol prices have soared during the war in Ukraine.
“As a single person I don’t think I could survive on this money,” said Tom in Norfolk. “They want you to be available seven days a week at the drop of a hat for them but they give you no guarantees.”
Sam*, another driver near Birmingham, said: “In 2020, when we were in serious [pandemic] lockdown, I got £160 a day and after that it has got less and less. It is hard work and they follow [your progress on the route] on the computer so you can’t have even one minute break.”
The driver said their pay rate had dropped to £120 for at least 10 hours a day and they were getting one day a week fewer shifts. “We don’t know what is going on with Amazon and if you ask a question you never get an answer,” the driver said.
Kate Robinson is a lawyer at Leigh Day who is leading legal action by Amazon drivers who say they should be entitled to basic employment rights such as the national living wage and holiday pay. These are denied as Amazon says they are self-employed independent contractors.
The drivers she represents have reported the same issues, with constantly changing rates of pay and rounds that take longer than they are supposed to.
“The rates are usually calculated on the basis of nine-hour [rounds] but in our experience most drivers will take several hours more than that with loading and redelivering items,” said Robinson. “With expenses and the hours worked some drivers are coming in quite significantly below the national minimum wage. Because they are not classed as employees or workers they don’t have any right to be paid that.”
Amazon said the latest pay changes were not a pay cut but a return to usual rates after the peak Christmas period. It said it had taken action to support delivery service providers over increased fuel costs.
“Delivery service providers offer drivers incentives at different times and locations throughout the year to meet operational needs and this is clearly communicated to them at the time. To suggest the end of these incentives are cuts to drivers’ earnings is wrong,” Amazon said in a statement.
“We are committed to ensuring that the people contracted by our independent delivery providers are fairly compensated and are treated with respect, and this is reflected by the positive feedback we receive from drivers every day,” the company said, adding that it used “sophisticated technology to plan delivery routes to ensure that drivers aren’t receiving and driving with too many packages”.
* The drivers’ names have been changed