Former Amazon Workers Speak Out Against Third World Working Conditions
by Arthur Foxake
A few months ago Greenteeth's Ian Thorpe blogged about the terms and conditions of employment imposed on temporary workers by Amazon and some other companies that do most of their business online. Our post, available at our scribd.com location or our main site, was one of several on one of the many controversial issues ignored by mainstream media.
That Channel 4 News have picked up this story is heartening because it shows that somebody out there in the media organizations that can command the attention of millions rather than thousands is actually tuned in to the controversies being highlighted by new media and we are not simply yelling into the abyss.
A Channel 4 News feature spoke to several people who had worked at Amazon's massive order 'fulfillment centre' in Rugeley, Staffordshire, and learned that most workers who pass through the high staff turnover warehouse find their experience humiliating and demeaning and emerge angry at conditions imposed on them by the internet that have not been tolerated in industry and commerce in the developed nations since early in the twentieth century.
All those interviewed affirmed that Amazon required them to work long hours with minimal breaks, and laid off temporary staff employed through agencies to avoid giving them the same benefits and rights as permanent workers. People also reported their movements were monitored by GPS trackers, and say they were only given 30 minutes for lunch in a ten-hour shift - 20 minutes of which were spent walking to and from the canteen.
Workers were subjected to searches for stolen goods at airport-style security gates before going into the canteen and before leaving work.
The employer allegedly penalised workers for talking to colleagues, taking sick leave, or even spending too long in the toilet– on a "three strikes and you're out" basis. A claim made by staff that has been confirmed by UK Work and Pensions Dept. Job Centre staff reveals that Amazon uses so-called zero hours contracts extensively, which means those staff on temporary contracts have no job security and are forced to make themselves available for work with no guarantee they will be offered a shift on a particular day.
A former manager for an employment bureau through which Amazon hires temporary staff has alleged that Amazon tried to avoid paying out hundreds of pounds in accrued holiday pay to agency staff by instructing agency representatives not to inform employees that it was owed to them. Andy Kingsley, who says he used to work for the recruitment agency Randstad inside the Rugeley warehouse, told Channel 4 News: "I think it was very underhand and devious to tell people not to claim money that they'd earned. It was left down to the agency reps to instruct the associates as to what their next step was."
Ranstad told Channel 4 News it had launched an investigation into the allegations and would take appropriate action if required.
Former employees say working conditions are so bad that local people in Rugeley devastated by the closure of its coal mine are now refusing to work at Amazon, which is bussing in agency workers from elsewhere.
Amazon said it employs over 4,500 permanent employees in the UK and has invested over a £1 billion pounds here.
It is an indictment of government employment policies over the past two decades, which have discouraged startups of 'bricks - and - mortar businesses' in favour of online trading that Amazon with UK sales of £2.9 bn for 2011 (estimate for 2012 - £3.5 bn), and bearing in mind that considerable chunks of Amazon UK business channeled through the tax havens of Jersey and Luxembourg) employs only 4,500 people while Sainsburys Supermarkets with £23 billion turnover in 2012 employed 155,000 people - a ratio of staff to turnover roughly in line with other UK retailers and over 35 times as many jobs per billion pounds in cash through the till.
Is it any wonder families are struggling to earn a living wage?
See video of former Amazon employees talking about their experience from Chanel 4 News
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