A BBC investigation into a UK-based Amazon warehouse has found conditions that a stress expert said could cause "mental and physical illness".
Prof Michael Marmot was shown secret filming of night shifts involving up to 11 miles of walking - where an undercover worker was expected to collect orders every 33 seconds.
It comes as the company employs 15,000 extra staff to cater for Christmas.
An undercover reporter, Adam Littler, a 23 year old graduate who’d worked in warehouses before, became an agency worker at Amazon's Swansea warehouse and took a hidden camera inside to record what happened on his. Adam was a picker, collecting what customers buy from the miles of shelving. The Swansea warehouse has 800,000 square feet of storage.
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.
He was given a set number of seconds to find each product and counted down. If he made a mistake the scanner beeped. It tracked his picking rate and sent his performance to managers. If it was too low, he was told he could face disciplinary action.
The BBC news item quotes him as saying:
"We are machines, we are robots, we plug our scanner in, 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."
Responding to seeing the BBC’s Panorama programme film, Professor Michael Marmot, who has studied stress and work for many decades, said
"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 said that official safety inspections had not raised any concerns and that 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".
Although Amazon says that their night shifts are lawful this was disputed in the programme.
Barrister Giles Bedloe told the programme:
"If the work involves heavy physical and, or, mental strain then that night worker should not work more than eight hours in any 24 hour period. There was no evidence that the company had taken any action to reduce the levels of stress likely to be caused by the fatigue, lack of control and other factors that the HSE lays down in their Stress Management Standards.”
Since the programme was aired, the GMB Union reports that Amazon are simply anti-Trade Union and have taken an aggressive and hostile stance toward any form of TU organising.
Martin Smith GMB National Organiser, said in the Unions press release:
“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."
Source: GMB / BBC / TUC Risks / Unionsafety
You can read the BBC's news report here
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