Amazon delivery drivers in India are planning a 24-hour strike, after the company slashed how much they can earn per package. Organizers say that demonstrations will take place in a number of cities across the country, including Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune, and Delhi, making it the first nationwide protest against the e-commerce giant in India. The strike comes as Amazon faces growing pressure from lawmakers and activists around the world over how it treats its enormous workforce, which includes hundreds of thousands of low-wage warehouse and delivery workers.
“When we raise our voice, that’s when these companies come down,” said Shaik Salauddin, national general secretary of the Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers (IFAT), one of the labor groups leading the strike. “This voice now is not going to get silent. In the coming days, it will come out as a much larger voice.” Salauddin told Rest of World that he expects between 10,000 and 15,000 workers will participate in the demonstration, but exact figures are unclear, and a date has yet to be announced.
On March 15, Amazon introduced a new policy that drastically reduced how much drivers in India make for each delivery, IFAT said in a statement. The group claims workers previously earned as much as 48 cents (35 rupees) per parcel but will now receive only 14 cents (10 rupees) for small packages and 21 cents (15 rupees), if they use a motorized rickshaw. IFAT is demanding Amazon increase the rate to at least 28 cents (20 rupees) and up to $1.10 (80 rupees), if drivers use bigger vehicles, such as delivery vans. “Petrol prices are going up, diesel prices are going up, but [pay] isn’t going up,” said Salauddin.
The day after the changes were announced, Amazon drivers in Pune briefly went on strike, causing delivery delays in some areas of the city. “Whenever they have cut our payment, they don’t tell us, they just directly cut it,” one driver who participated in the protest told Rest of World. They are employed by a logistics firm that contracts drivers to Amazon and spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation. “We ask what’s the reason, and they tell us that it was reduced from the top, so we are cutting it at the bottom.” The driver, who has been working with Amazon for over four years, said that at one point, workers like them earned roughly $41 a day delivering for Amazon. Now, they expect to make around half that amount.
Amazon did not immediately return a request for comment, but the company told the Indian financial newspaper Mint that it wasn’t contacted by IFAT and is currently looking into the drivers’ demands. “There are no disruptions in any of our delivery operations, and our partners continue to work with us to deliver on time,” a spokesperson told the publication. “We place enormous value in having regular conversations with our partners.”
Amazon often doesn’t directly employ delivery drivers, but instead relies on a network of what it calls “Amazon Delivery Service Partners,” small logistics firms that hire workers and contract with the e-commerce giant. Drivers can also become independent contractors through the Amazon Flex program, which expanded to over 35 Indian cities in June last year. While the contracted drivers are not employees, Amazon still exerts control over how they do their jobs. The company has been criticized in the U.S. for spying on drivers and pressuring them to work at breakneck speeds, leading to accidents and other safety issues. (Amazon said it has stopped monitoring workers’ Facebook groups and invests heavily in safety protocols.)
Aditi Surie, a researcher for the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, studies the country’s gig economy and said she believes the coronavirus pandemic has made organizing amongst delivery workers easier. When India went into lockdown, it was suddenly “just so stark how essential and important Amazon’s logistics was,” she said. Millions of people stuck at home became reliant on the e-commerce giant, turning delivery drivers into a crucial labor force. “And I think that’s done a lot to actually build solidarity,” Surie explained.
The pay-per-delivery model was popular before the pandemic, but during the peak of the Covid-19 lockdowns in India, when their work was seen as essential, Surie says a number of e-commerce companies, like Flipkart and BigBasket, began offering gig workers minimum wage. “What’s happened is, slowly through this year, as the economy’s opened up, they’ve gone back to the incentivized model, where you don’t earn a minimum wage, but you earn as much as you work,” Surie said. “A lot of those kinds of changes have caused a lot of these strikes to come up.”
The delivery drivers in India are part of a global labor movement among Amazon workers. Warehouse employees in Alabama are currently in the process of a high-profile union vote, which may result in the first Amazon labor union in the U.S. A few days ago, in Italy, Amazon employees went on strike to protest what they said were poor working conditions.
If 15,000 workers participate in the Amazon strike, as IFAT’s Salauddin anticipates, it will be one of the largest collective actions against Amazon to date. For the driver in Pune, who has made a living delivering packages in the city, the demand is clear. “Our wish is that we should get more money if we’re working more,” he said. “But we are getting less money after working more.”