Photo/Illutration Members of a labor union and others hold a rally in front of a building that houses Inc. in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward on June 13. (Takaya Katada)

Ten people who deliver packages ordered through have started a labor union and said they are seeking negotiations with the e-commerce giant about their now-grueling working conditions.

The 10 drivers had signed service agreements with delivery companies or their subcontractors that are commissioned by the Japanese arm of Inc.

They have carried out door-to-door deliveries for Amazon through its network, although there is no direct contractual relationship between each driver and Amazon.

The 10 said they formed the union to seek a collective bargaining agreement with Amazon as well as the commissioned delivery companies or their subcontractors.

They said the companies involved need to properly manage the drivers’ working hours and pay appropriate wages based on the Labor Standards Law.

They are currently treated as sole proprietors or subcontracted workers, but they said their working hours and delivery destinations are in fact managed by an application provided by Amazon.

Therefore, they said, Amazon is required to hold labor talks with them.

About two years ago, delivery charges were changed to a per diem basis, and the number of packages they had to deliver per day almost doubled to about 200, the drivers said at a news conference in Tokyo on June 13.

They said they are now working more than 12 hours a day.

The number of packages requiring delivery sharpy increased about a year ago when an artificial intelligence system was introduced to manage delivery destinations, they said.

“A service agreement as a sole proprietor is ‘fake,’ and their working hours and delivery destinations are in fact managed by an (Amazon) application,” said Shunji Suga, a lawyer representing the drivers.

Suga said Amazon “should sign a contract with them as workers.”

An Amazon representative said the use of the app “is not required,” so the company is under no obligation to negotiate with the drivers.

Amazon provides the app to ensure drivers deliver packages safely and that customers receive delivery process notifications, the representative said.

One of the 10 drivers, a man in his 50s living in Kanagawa Prefecture, said he signed a service agreement as a sole proprietor with a sub-subcontractor of Amazon in March 2019.

But the number of packages he had to deliver skyrocketed over the past year or so, and his working conditions became grueling, he said.

In autumn 2021, he parked his car on a sloping road in front of a house that had ordered a package.

When he was about to get out of the car, it moved in reverse because of an operation mistake.

The car hit a fence of the house and a parked vehicle, breaking its windows.

“I was in horror, thinking about what would have happened if a person was near the car,” he said.

He reported the accident to the sub-subcontractor, which told him that it would loan him a vehicle for 2,000 yen ($15) a day from two days later.

He paid for the damages through his own insurance.

The company took no action to prevent a recurrence, he said.

“If this continues, another similar accident will happen,” he said he thought at the time.

He used to work as a commissioned driver for Yamato Transport Co. and Japan Post.

Based on his experience in the industry, he said, “The current amount of packages is extraordinary.”

According to his daily records, the daily average number of items he delivered in July 2020 was 116.

But about a year ago, the sub-subcontractor told him that Amazon started using AI to decide delivery routes.

From August 2021, the average number of items he delivered was 178 a day. The daily figure jumped to 214 in May this year.

But his daily compensation has remained the same at 18,000 yen.

His out-of-pocket expenses on gasoline and vehicle maintenance total about 50,000 yen per month. His monthly after-tax income is about 220,000 yen.

He also feels that unfamiliar delivery destinations have increased recently.

He typically arrives at a delivery base at 8 a.m. and finishes his rounds around 10 p.m.

“I am at my breaking point,” he said. “If the situation is not improved, I will drop at some point.”

(This article was written by Shin Matsuura, senior staff writer Takehiko Sawaji and Takaya Katada.)