A nationwide investigation into working conditions at Amazon warehouses, including two in Croydon, has found the tech giant and its agencies use flexible contracts to treat workers “like disposable labour”.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism spoke to warehouse workers across the country and found many of them struggling to make ends meet due to unpaid wages and cancelled shifts.
Others are on zero-hour contracts, with no guarantee of minimum pay each week – in contradiction of Amazon’s own policies. Many said it was impossible to get in touch with their recruitment agency to have these complaints addressed.
Allegations like these are not new for Amazon, but they are significant against the backdrop of its success during the pandemic. In the run-up to Christmas, Amazon hired more than 20,000 seasonal workers, many through outsourcing agencies.
Amazon recruited for 150 seasonal jobs at its two Croydon hubs, both on the Purley Way, to cope with festive demand last year. In a borough where 1-in-20 people are unemployed, and with 13 per cent of Croydon workers furloughed due to covid-19, this sounds like a boon.
But employees there have complained of similar exploitative working practices.
John (not his real name, which has been withheld to protect his identity) is employed by PMP Recruitment as a warehouse associate in the larger Croydon depot. He earns £11.80 per hour for 30 hours’ work per week – reduced from an initial 40-hour full-time contract.
At first, he was told he would be working morning or hybrid shifts. But this was “scrapped” by management and John was put on to night shifts.
Day-to-day, shift changes are often communicated at the last minute, giving workers “little time to prepare and make a decision whether they want to stay or leave”. The warehouse is understaffed, John told Inside Croydon, leaving many workers there feeling “exhausted”.
Meanwhile, workers are often let go – or “released” in Amazon’s jargon – “without warning or proper notice”.
John said, “There’s a very selfish culture among the workforce… everyone knows their job is constantly on the line.”
Online reviews, although they cannot be verified, paint a similar picture.
“It’s clear to see the warehouse ‘supervisors’ favouring their own,” reads an anonymous one-star review placed on Indeed from a former worker based in Croydon.
“They know we do night shifts, yet contact us around 6pm to confirm we are coming for the next shift. Literally got home from previous shifts at 12.30pm, get to sleep by 2pm. Which means we have to break our sleep, and not get the required rest time between shifts (8 hours). You either have to give your phone to someone who lives with you to reply or you have to get up and reply. Or you miss your shift.”
Another review, by a “part-time university student”, described how, after working at a Croydon warehouse for two weeks, they were told not to come back the next day: “No notice or no transfer options and when we tried to ask why we were being dropped out our manager acted irritated and said she will call when she have work, kind of chased us out of there.
“Since then she doesn’t even answer our calls when I tried to call to ask about my pay slip.”
Others complained of 15-minute lunch breaks, a lack of training and being expected to “work like a machine”.
More positive reviews compliment the friendly people and the opportunities to learn about logistics and warehouse tools.
John said that covid-19 safety measures at the Croydon depot worked well and he felt safe there.
Amazon workers in other countries, including Germany and Poland, have held strikes and protests against their conditions.
Croydon Solidarity Network, a local workers’ group, have been in contact with Amazon drivers and warehouse workers for some time. Many have complained of increasing workloads, squeezed hours and unsafe conditions – but attempts to organise have yet to result in any collective action.
Trade unionists, politicians and campaigners have condemned the findings about Amazon’s working practices in this country.
Frances O’Grady, the TUC General Secretary, said, “Amazon workers have played a key role during this pandemic. But many are treated like disposable labour while the company registers enormous profits off the back of their hard work. That’s not right.”
Mick Rix, GMB national officer, told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism: “Amazon for years have exploited the use of temporary labour, by hiring and firing at will. Temporary agency work can be one of the worst forms of exploitative employment methods… Amazon basically fires the vast majority of its agency labour it takes on prior to seasonal peak, and does so without notice.”
PMP Recruitment and Amazon have denied the findings of the Bureau’s investigation. PMP told the Bureau: “We recognise the importance of ensuring our workers are paid correctly first time, every time, and work tirelessly in achieving this goal – we have robust procedures in place to ensure that if pay queries do occur they are resolved swiftly.”
Amazon said: “Our agency terms are explicit that Amazon does not engage individuals on zero-hour contracts. Associates on temporary assignments at Amazon, who are employed by agencies, work a range of shifts from full-time to part-time, however in the majority of cases, a 40-hour week is offered.”
Are you an Amazon worker in Croydon? Share your experiences with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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