Consumers love the convenience of Jeff Bezos’ firm. But the undue focus on this advantage has led to the neglect of the interests of workers, rival entrepreneurs and voters
This week’s decision by the GMB union to bring a legal case against firms delivering for Amazon, the e-commerce giant, throws into sharp relief how much the modern economy has been stretched to benefit a monopolistic form of tech-capitalism. Ostensibly the action is about employment law: it argues that couriers working for three delivery companies are not entrepreneurs working for themselves who contract their labour to anyone willing to pay, but are in fact employees of Amazon’s latent delivery and logistics network. If the trade union is right, then these couriers should be treated as staff and paid the minimum wage, as well as sick and holiday pay.
The price of Amazonian convenience to the British economy appears to be a few centuries of workplace progress. The union says the couriers are paid per parcel delivered, see wages deducted if unrealistic targets are unmet, and manage on illegal rates of pay. The government is picking up the tab: if these were Amazon delivery staff then the company would have to pay their national insurance. As they are deemed to be self-employed, there’s no employer’s tax to pay and the welfare system tops up their income with tax credits.