By Andrew Bradshaw
They may be bringing you your books and your new gym gear to get you through lockdown, but nobody is clapping for the grafters doing the collecting and delivering.
A new culture has developed on the back of the pandemic. Our goods are just a click away, almost instantaneous, the most exciting thing in the day sometimes being the whizzing of the van outside our windows as we all attempt to lumber on from inside.
The efficiency of the Amazon service is one of the reasons why the founder Jeff Bezos is now the second richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire index. The catch? A driver workforce under constant surveillance and relentless, dictatorial orders.
Now, with no access to bathroom facilities, one driver resorted to relieving themselves in public while on shift.
An anonymous driver* said: “Drivers are resorting to peeing in a bottle. There’s no other way around it.”
They went on to recall stories of drivers pooping in a plastic bag in the back of their van. “Are we not human beings anymore?”
Some parts of the media have chosen to shame the drivers, who argue the real culprit is companies like Amazon denying their workers basic rights.
Another article in the Metro also ridiculed a courier for defecating in public in Manchester. Tellingly, in most of the coverage there is failure of right to reply for the drivers.
“Sometimes I have to get [to the depot] by 5.30 am and I finish at 5 or 6 in the afternoon,” said the driver, who has worked as an Amazon courier throughout the pandemic. Amazon uses an app to track the movements of their drivers, with a limited working time of 10 hours. The manager will then call the anonymous driver and tell him to log out and log back in with a different account to keep working.
With no scheduled time for breaks, a 15-minute slot in the morning to load a full van of up to 350 parcels, and no guaranteed access to toilets, working conditions are embarrassing workers into going to the toilet outside.
The driver recalled one occasion where they took a toilet break at a supermarket. Despite only being off the road for 15 minutes, his managed called to find out why he had stopped working.
They said: “The app constantly tracks your movements, behaviours and patterns. It makes me feel trapped, like I’m a slave, like I have no rights.”
Even before the pandemic, they went on to explain how complicated it was getting to the toilet, often having to spend unnecessary money on food or coffee whilst on a low wage just to use public facilities. With the closure of most public toilets and shops during the pandemic, access has gotten much worse.
Workers rights have been a topic of debate with big firms in the past, with Deliveroo winning a high court ruling against their riders in 2018 following workers demands including holiday pay, minimum wage and pensions contributions.
Amazon drivers are self-employed, just like Deliveroo riders, and work for outsourced companies, and typically do not find out what time – or if at all – they will be working until the night before.
When contacted for comment by Novara Media, Amazon made sure to emphasise this outsourcing: “We are committed to ensuring that the people contracted by our independent delivery providers are fairly compensated and are treated with respect…”Amazon chose not to address the issue when asked about breaks and toilet access.
The company has now started using the app to send out alerts reminding drivers to take a break, but the anonymous driver was sceptical. “If you take a break of more than 10 or 15 minutes you might get a call, or you become so behind,” they said.
“I’ve done many different jobs in my life. Trust me, this is the worst job ever.”
*Identifying details have been changed to protect anonymity.