Who doesn’t love the Amazon where they can find whatever they want, paying the least amount anywhere on the Internet, and receiving their package within two days after payment? Those of you who are the customer may very well have your list of reasons to love Amazon, but not everyone shares the same sentiments. Certainly not Amazon’s employees.
During the 2018 Prime day, there had been protests and strikes organized by Amazon employees in Europe, and people around the world boycotted in support. The latest protests brought to light some of the astonishing findings in the past that had investigated and reported what working in Amazon looks like.
A reporter for The Mirror worked in an Amazon warehouse as undercover for 5 months, and shone a light on some fairly horrific environment and practices:
“Timed toilet breaks, impossible targets and exhausting, “intolerable” working conditions are frequent complaints. Staff have been paid less than the living wage, and it even emerged drivers had faced fines for “early” deliveries.”
My own story of how I became a human-robot could not have been darker. Shifts began in the gloom at 7.30am and ended at 6pm, long after the sun had gone down.
The plant, with no natural light, is flooded with fluorescent bulbs – night and day have no meaning.
Many of the clocks have been covered over with tape by employees desperate not to be reminded how long is left of their shift. But time still rules here – a new package must be sealed and ready to go every 30 seconds.
Whatever the hour thousands of workers are racing to hit goals set by computers monitoring their every move. In my five weeks, I saw staff struggling to meet impossible targets, in constant fear of the sack.
Two half-hour breaks were the only time off my feet, but it was barely enough time to race to the canteen and wolf down some food to keep my energy up.
My body ached, and my fitness tracker showed I walked at least 10 miles most days.
Despite being a keen marathon runner, the physical effort left me feeling dizzy, and I worried I might keel over if I kept pushing myself as hard as I needed to meet my targets.”
Selby also described a typical day:
“Alone in a locked metal cage, 10 feet from my nearest colleague, a robot approaches from the shadows and thrusts a tower of shelves towards me.
I have nine seconds to grab and process an item to be sent for packing – a target of 300 items an hour, for hour after relentless hour.
As I bend to the floor then reach high above my head to fulfill a never-ending stream of orders, my body screams at me.
Welcome to Amazon’s picking floor. Here, while cameras watch my every move, a screen in front of me offers constant reminders of my “units per hour” and exactly how long each has taken.”
According to a former employee who spoke to The Street, he had to “clock 15 miles a day” while working 10 and a half hour shifts, four days a week, as a water spider, and sometimes Amazon would force employees to work a fifth day during the week-allegedly called “mandatory overtime”, which is enacted whenever their almost impossible target is missed, and those who fail to work the fifth day will have 10 hours cut from their vacations.
A survey by worker rights platform organize reported that “74 percent of workers avoid using the toilet for fear of being warned they had missed their target numbers. Rising goals have also taken a toll on employees’ mental health, as 55 percent of them report having suffered depression since working at Amazon. Over 80 percent of workers said they would not apply for a job at Amazon again.”
According to several major newspapers, Amazon had in the past refused to acknowledge work-related injuries of an employee caused by excessive workload, put on employees that came back from a surgery on improvement plans, and refused to install air conditionings in warehouses under extreme temperatures until the string of ambulances waiting to transport collapsed employees were spotted and reported.
Employees have complained that although they had presented a sick note for being ill, their supervisor still called a meeting to discuss their conduct.
The Huffington Post U.K. on September 29th, 2017 reported, “Workers at one of Amazon’s “flagship” warehouses are taking home less than the minimum wage after being effectively forced to pay a third-party for the “benefit” of a special bus service.
Some staff at the American giant’s site in Rugeley, Staffs, receive £7.65 an hour as warehouse operatives but pocket as little as £6.80 an hour once they’ve paid to get to the remote rural location.
Other workers for the firm, which made sales worth £7.3bn in the UK last year, have even been seen sleeping under bridges as dire transport links leave them stranded for hours on end.”
An anonymous Amazon employee had said “I do not know one person who is happy at Amazon”. But the highly toxic and depressing working environment is not only caused by long hours, low wages, and relentless targets that make employees fall asleep on their feet or urinate in bottles or in trash cans, but also, and largely, contributed by a repressive monitoring and evaluation system that encourages employees to report on each other and vote those at the lower tier of performance rating out of job.
Amazon installs airport-style security and breaks are cut short by waiting in line. Employees have to put all their possessions into small lockers before getting in line to walk through a metal detector. This happens again during lunch, when long waiting time forces employees often to get whatever close by, sit down for a few moments, and rush back to the detector.
According to one employee, “If you got caught too many times chatting, you would get a point on your scorecard. After five points, you would have to talk to your supervisor about your poor performance. Three of these talks meant that you got a report. Three reports and you are fired.”
Those brutally aggressive metrics have reduced most employees to a state of constant anxiety that they could be fired at any moment for not meeting metrics. Employees complained that Amazon is a modern slavery machine that made Jeff Bezos the richest man in the world off the backs of people so desperate for work that they tolerate the abuse.