Drivers delivering for Amazon have hundreds of pounds of pay withheld
- Credit: Archant
Drivers delivering Amazon parcels say they are struggling to pay rent and buy food after having several weeks of wages deducted for van damage.
As revealed by this newspaper in February, some drivers take home as little as £2 an hour while delivering parcels for the online shopping giant, once costs are taken away.
How does it work?
The drivers are not hired by Amazon directly, but are instead sub-contracted through courier companies as “independent contractors''.
It means they do not have employment rights such as holiday, sick or maternity pay. They also pay around £200 a week to the companies in van hire but have no guarantee of work.
We spoke to nine drivers, who delivered Amazon parcels from the Norwich depot, and had hundreds of pounds in wages withheld after returning their vans, leaving them, in some cases, in debt to the companies which hired them.
Norwich South Labour MP Clive Lewis accused Amazon of “hiding horrendous exploitation behind a maze of Byzantine, arm's length subcontracting arrangements".
In response Amazon said: “We are committed to ensuring drivers are fairly compensated and treated with respect, and this is reflected by the positive feedback we receive from drivers every day.”
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‘No money for food’
Craig Morrish, 33, from Bowthorpe, worked for two companies called KMI Logistics and Deliverwize. He provided payslips showing £950 was taken from his wages for van damages by KMI. It left him with £38.80 for four weeks work in August last year.
“The van had a dent on the side and the back bumper from going down country lanes,” he said. “They charged me £950 in damages and there was no way to dispute the amount.”
The father-of-one added: “For the money you earn the work is tough. You are only meant to be on the road for nine hours but I would leave at 10am and not be home until 9pm some days.
“They tell you to have a break but I would be on the road for so long, I had to urinate in a bottle in the back of van.”
KMI has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
When he left KMI he worked for another company at the Norwich depot called Deliverwize.
“It was perfect at the start, he said. “I had five days a week for a few weeks and after that my days dropped to four, then three. My last week was just two days. It is hardly enough to cover the van hire.”
When he left, he was charged £176 for damages and £105 for other deductions. The deductions made by Deliverwize meant his pay was zero on his last payslip.
“I had no money for food, I owe a huge amount in rent and my mental health is just ridiculous,” he said.
£12 for two days’ work
His brother Connor Morrish, 25, from Bowthorpe, was also left with no pay on his last wage slip.
He worked for Deliverwize for over a year and ended up paying around £1,000 in damages when he left. One week he earned just £12.77 for two days’ work once van hire and fuel costs had been taken away.
“I clipped a wall and dented the passenger side so I was happy to pay something,” he said. “But they ended up charging me over £1,000. I had to pay £240 just to replace a wing mirror.”
But he complained to Deliverwize in February, after he saw his van in a car park and it didn’t look like it had all of the work which he had paid for completed, including to the wing mirror and bumper. He took photos and sent them to Deliverwize.
“I complained to them and then they sent me invoices,” he said. The last time Mr Morrish said he heard from Deliverwize about his complaint was late February when a manager sent him a text message stating: “I have chased up on everything. Will try to get it (the information) all to you by tonight.” He has not heard from them since, he said.
“I’ve had to use up most of my savings to get by,” he said.
In response, Deliverwize said: “We work hard to ensure the drivers Deliverwize work with have a positive experience and receive good pay.
“All costs are clearly explained to all drivers. In this instance, the van repair charges were clearly explained to Connor – in fact he chose the garage and received the repair quotes directly. We have also shared all invoices which show all repair work on the van was carried out according to the quotes he received. We have also shared all details of deductions with Craig.”
Charged for repairs never done
Andy Cooper, meanwhile, is in a legal dispute with KMI after he was charged £1800 when he damaged a door after hitting a deer. KMI owed him £1,000 in pay when he left. That has been withheld by the company and they are pursuing him for another £800 for the damage.
But he has refused to pay, leading them to send him a court claim.
The 56-year-old, from Caister-on-Sea, said he later found out, when he visited a garage used by KMI that the £1800 worth of work which he had been sent a quote for had not been done. The van had instead been sold.
“I’m willing to pay something, but there is no way to mediate with them,” he said.
When he complained to KMI about them not carrying out the work they are charging him for, the company’s owner, Carlos Hopffer, wrote: “(The) van is not your property. Sold or not is damaged and if you sell any vehicle with damage it depreciate (sic) the cost.”
Before returning the vehicle, Mr Cooper took the van to two garages where he was quoted £660 and £800 for the damage – approximately a third of what KMI have charged him. KMI have invoiced him for replacing the door, while the other two garages said the dent could be repaired.
The vehicle hire agreement with KMI states that there is a £2,500 excess for damage and adds, “we reserve the right to insist on your rectifying the damage at your own expense.”
Left in debt
Tom Billings, 34, from Ormesby St Margaret, meanwhile, said he had to rely on friends to buy his food when he left KMI at the start of the month and had his pay withheld.
Payslips show the company owed him more than £1,000 for his last four weeks of work when he quit at the start of March.
Almost a month after leaving, KMI sent him an email stating he will not be paid and instead he owes them £1400 after he had an accident with another van. They are charging him the full £2,500 excess for damages on the van.
“I had a dent in the rear door (from the accident) and I will pay for that,” he said. “But they’ve given me no evidence how they’ve calculated this figure.”
With his wages withheld he had to rely on a friend to do his food shop for him. He said working for the company had caused him financial hardship and stress.
“It feels like we have not got a leg to stand on,” he said.
Messages sent by KMI to drivers also show they charge drivers £500 deposits for the van hire, something Mr Billings said he had to pay too.
KMI wrote to Mr Billings that if he failed to pay the £1400 it would “leave us no choice” but to take legal action.
‘We only charge what it costs’
Another company contracted by Amazon to deliver from the Norwich depot is called Kedan Transport. Driver Craig Yarrow, 35, from Hopton, who left in January, worked there for three months.
The former soldier, who served for 10 years in the Household Cavalry, was charged over £1,000 when he returned the van.
In an email from Kedan the damage was listed as “external damage” and “internal damage”.
“I cleaned it inside and out and now they are withholding my wages,” he said. “The only damage was the left-wing mirror and a small dent in the back of the van.”
He admitted that damage, but Kedan has said there was also damage inside the van - something Mr Yarrow disputes.
He said having his last weeks of pay deducted left him “massively struggling”. “I left thinking I will get my money back, but to find out I would get nothing meant I struggled to pay the bills. It was really hard.”
In response Kedan said: “We have on hire and off hire documents which show any damage already existing and then any more damage at time of off hire. These are reviewed and signed by the drivers.”
However, Mr Yarrow did not review or sign any documents when he returned the vehicle, as he said there was no one to return the van to at the Norwich depot.
In response, Kedan claimed Mr Yarrow “did not wait” for the agreement to be signed. But Mr Yarrow disputed that, saying: "I was told to park the van up at the depot.
“The manager wasn’t on site so they said just hand in the keys to security, which I did."
A Kedan spokesperson added: “We do not put any extra on top of what it actually costs (in repairs). I have listed all of the costs in my email to Craig. For parts, we don’t use dealers, we use eBay and second-hand part centres to ensure that the driver does not pay over the odds.”
In response, Amazon said it had a 24/7 hotline for drivers to raise concerns.
A spokesman added: “We’re hugely proud of the Amazon delivery service partner drivers who do such great work across the country, getting customers what they want, when they want, wherever they are.”
Why are we reporting on this?
Amazon has boomed during lockdown, with sales in the UK increasing by 50pc last year, helping to make founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos the world’s richest man.
But with that success has come more scrutiny of the conditions its sub-contracted workers face.
Stories of drivers having so little time for breaks that they have to urinate in bottles in their van are now commonplace.
And the way drivers are charged to hire vans for a week with no guarantee of work has left some earning far below the legal minimum hourly wage.
More than 80,000 people have signed a petition set up by workers’ network Organise to improve conditions for Amazon drivers.
The petition reads: “We're exhausted. Since the pandemic started, Amazon hugely increased the amount of stops we have to make as delivery drivers. It's a pressure and stress that I've never felt before. We do not get any extra pay for the increase, while Amazon make billions.”
An investigation on BBC’s Newsnight last week also heard the number of parcels drivers were being asked to deliver a day had doubled to 300, meaning drivers claimed, they had to drive dangerously to meet targets.
Trade union Unite, meanwhile, has launched a campaign called Action on Amazon to get a better deal for workers at a distribution centre in Peterborough.
And research by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism earlier this year found Amazon was breaching its own policies by leaving agency workers it uses with zero-hours contracts.
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