Amazon has entered the Australian gig economy with the launch of Amazon Flex – like Uber, but for delivering packages

REUTERS/Mike Segar/File

Online shopping giant Amazon announced on Wednesday the launch of its Uber-like delivery service Amazon Flex, which the company says is a way for people to “be their own boss and earn extra money in their free time delivering packages to customers.”

Flex, which Amazon says will allow it to expand its delivery network, ramp up at peak times, and speed up delivery times for customers when demand increases, will initially only be available in Sydney and Melbourne. It will not change the products consumers can order and customers will notice no changes in the order process.

To sign up, users must download the Amazon Flex app on iOS or Android, then sign up and complete a background verification process. Once that’s complete, they can be assigned delivery ‘blocks’ of roughly four hours, during which they will ferry packages from pickup points around Sydney and Melbourne to customers.

The company touts the fact users are able to see the minimum payment and estimated delivery time of a block before accepting it as a benefit of the system. Delivery partners receive payment on a weekly basis.

“Amazon Flex puts delivery partners in the driver’s seat, enabling them to earn extra money with the flexibility to choose their own schedule,” Craig Fuller, Amazon’s local operations director, said in a statement.

“With visibility of how much they will be paid for a block before they accept it, delivery partners ensure their time on the road is well spent.”

“We are always looking at new ways to deliver convenience to customers. As customer demand and delivery needs continue to grow in Australia, Amazon Flex gives us the agility to supplement the work we do with our existing carrier partners so we can speed up delivery times and respond to peaks in demand.”

Amazon Flex launched in the United States in 2015. It has been described as a “last mile” service – filling the gaps in the final leg of delivery from fulfilment centres to customers, and expanding Amazon’s footprint cheaply and flexibly, without having to rely on third-party contractors.

However, several delivery drivers in the US told Business Insider last year that Flex jobs were drying up as Amazon relied more on third-party contractors like FedEx, UPS, and USPS. “Delivery service partners (DSPs) will get the volume first because they are cheaper from a cost-per-package perspective,” a source with knowledge of Amazon’s delivery system told Business Insider. “Flex gets the scraps.”

A company spokesperson told Business Insider Australia that Amazon does not utilise DSPs in Australia.

Last year, Amazon faced scrutiny in the US over its practice of cutting into driver tips to pay their base wages – a controversy which also plagued delivery companies including Instacart and DoorDash. In August, the company confirmed it had ended the practice, and implemented several measures to increase transparency on partner pay.