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Amazon drivers unionize after AI sends them on 'impossible' routes

Being subcontractors, their working conditions ain't our problem – US giant's stance

A group of delivery drivers subcontracting for Amazon in Japan have unionized, claiming the internet titan's AI software often plans routes that are impossible to complete within set deadlines.

The labor union, formed by 15 drivers in Nagasaki in a protest against the American mega-corp, is the second group of its kind formed by Amazon delivery drivers in Japan; the first group, in Yokosuka, organised in June starting with ten members.

Workers say they are tired of working long hours to deliver more and more parcels for no extra pay, and blamed the company's software, which automatically sets routes and delivery times, for exacerbating problems.

Tatsuya Sekiguchi, the vice executive chairman of Tokyo Union, who is helping manage both union efforts, said Amazon's AI software often dispatches drivers along inefficient routes that forces them to seek other paths. "The AI often doesn't account for real-world conditions like rivers or train tracks or roads that are too narrow for vehicles. The results are unreasonable demands and long hours," Sekiguchi said, Bloomberg reported

Increasing the volume of parcels and requiring long days for no extra reward eats into drivers' wages considering they have to pay for gas and other vehicle costs themselves. Both unions want Amazon to raise daily pay, cover gas expenses, and cut overtime work.

One driver said he often has to work over a previous limit that curbed work to 13 hours a day or 60 hours per week, a restriction that was recently scrapped, according to Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun. 

"Parcels have significantly increased since about a year ago, following the introduction of an artificial intelligence system to manage our delivery destinations," a driver said. "I put in more than 12 hours a day." 

The delivery drivers, however, are subcontractors and technically work for a third-party logistics company. Amazon is not legally responsible for their working conditions. The labor union groups believe they should be treated as employees since they work directly for the company. "Given that they get orders directly from Amazon Japan through an app, they work for Amazon," Sekiguchi argued. 

Amazon has been ignoring the Yokosuka union's efforts to negotiate so far. "Drivers are doing their jobs under contract with our subcontractor and they are not our employees," company representatives said in a statement to The Asahi Shumbun. "The subcontractor is responsible for drivers' employment, contracts, operation management and payments."

The Register has asked Amazon for comment. ®

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