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Employer Hostility In Amazon

Monday, November 25, 2013

Amazon Utterly Hostile To Workers In A Union Organization Which Would Deal With Working Conditions In Their Warehouses

Proof of this is that trade union organization in Amazon has been driven underground and has to operate like the French Resistance says GMB.

GMB, the union for workers in Amazons warehouses, commented on a BBC investigation into the online retailer Amazon that has uncovered working conditions that an expert says could cause ‘mental and physical illness’. See notes to editors for copy of press release.

Martin Smith GMB National Organiser, said “Amazon’s claim, in response to the investigation, that health and safety is a top priority for them is strange in view of their total hostility to employees having their own safety representatives as the law allows.

They are utterly hostile to their employees exercising their lawful rights to have an open trade union organisation which would deal with working conditions in their warehouses.

Proof of this is that GMB trade union organisation in Amazon has been driven underground and has to operate like the French Resistance.

What an indictment that Amazon cannot work openly with GMB on safe ergonomics in their warehouses like union representatives do every day with more enlightened companies.

Maybe the free delivery model is run at the expense of the work force, two thirds of whom are temporary workers many on the state subsidised national minimum wage plus 1p."

End

Contact Martin Smith 07974 251 722 or Paul Clarke 07713 077193 GMB press office 07974 251 823 or 07921 289880

Notes to editors

BBC press release Monday 25th November

Panorama – Undercover: The Truth About Amazon

A BBC investigation into the online retailer Amazon has uncovered working conditions that an expert says could cause ‘mental and physical illness’.

Lawyers have also told Panorama that the nightshifts in Amazon’s distribution centre could be unlawful because of the long hours and the demanding nature of the job.

An undercover reporter worked as a picker at Amazon’s Swansea warehouse for seven weeks. On some shifts - lasting ten and a half hours and walking up to eleven miles - he was expected to pick a customer order every 33 seconds.

Professor Michael Marmot from University College London, one of Britain’s leading experts on stress at work, said the conditions at Amazon are “all the bad stuff at once”.

Professor Marmot said: “The characteristics of this type of job, the evidence shows increased risk of mental illness and physical illness.

“There are always going to be menial jobs…but we can make them better or worse. And it seems to me the demands of efficiency at the cost of individual’s health and wellbeing – it's got to be balanced.”

Amazon says the safety of its staff is its ‘number one priority’. It says an independent expert appointed by the company advised that the picking job is ‘similar to jobs in many other industries and does not increase the risk of mental and physical illness.’

Adam Littler, a 23 year old graduate who’d worked in warehouses before, was taken on as a temporary worker. He spent four weeks on the day shift earning £6.50 and hour before transferring to nights on £8.25 per hour. He worked four nights a week for ten and a half hours, with an hour break.

Adam was a picker, collecting what customers buy from the miles of shelving. The Swansea warehouse has 800,000 square feet of storage.

His work was controlled by a scanner. It instructed him where to go in the warehouse and told him how long he had to get there.

He wore a hidden camera and kept a video diary. The footage shows him racing against the computerized countdown. Adam tells the hidden camera:

"I’ve never done a job like this before … the pressure is unbelievable."

Adam described his experience as feeling like a ‘robot’.

“We are machines, we are robots, we plug our scanner to, we’re holding it, but we might as well be plugging it into ourselves. …We don’t think for ourselves, maybe they don’t trust us to think for ourselves as human beings, I don’t know.”

Amazon says its workers are not exploited and they’re proud of their safe and positive workplace. The company says productivity targets are set objectively based on previous performance levels achieved by the workforce.

The scanner tracks Adam’s picking rate and sends his performance data to managers. If it is too low, he could face disciplinary action. Adam’s target is 110 items an hour, but he rarely met the targets.

After experiencing a 10 and a half hour night shift Adam said: “I managed to walk or hobble nearly eleven miles, just short of eleven miles last night. I’m absolutely shattered. My feet are the thing that are bothering me the most to be honest.”

Amazon says new recruits are warned some positions are physically demanding. They say some workers seek these positions as they enjoy the active nature of the work.

But experts say these ten and a half hour night shifts could be unlawful due to the strenuous nature of the work.

Giles Bedloe, an experienced employment barrister at Dyers Chambers, told us: “If the work involves heavy physical and or mental strain, then that night worker should not work more than 8 hours in any 24 hour period…the basis for that is to protect the rights and interests of the employees.”

That could put Amazon in breach of the working time regulations.

Amazon says its night shift is lawful. They say they sought expert advice to ensure the shifts ‘comply with all relevant legal requirements’.

Amazon told Panorama they rely on the good judgement of thousands of employees. It says: ‘Together we’re working hard to make sure we’re better tomorrow than we were today’.

Amazon says it has invested £1 billion in the UK and has created 5000 permanent jobs.

Undercover: The Truth About Amazon is Monday 9pm on BBC One

-Ends-

For more information please email philippa.spurr@bbc.co.uk or call 0771491566

Philippa Spurr Publicist - News & Current Affairs 07714915668

 

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