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Amazon employees reportedly treated like "robots"

In the wake of the #AmazonStrike, employees are sharing their stories of workplace plight – but the company denies wrongdoing

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Tales of plight from Amazon employees are not uncommon, and the latest reports from its Swansea warehouse compound the company's poor reputation for worker treatment further. 

A former staff member at Amazon's Swansea warehouse has accused the company of treating staff like "robots" in an "intimidating" working environment. The worker went on to allege that many of his colleagues had been sacked for failing to meet "unrealistic" targets.

Speaking to Welsh news programme Newyddion 9, the unnamed worker told of oppressive working environments. "Things like timed breaks" took place, he explained, with managers "constantly monitoring you". Spend over a few minutes in the loo and workers were investigated, the employee alleged: "Not being able to go to the toilet without someone coming and being like, "right, you've been five minutes away from your task now what have you been doing?" 

This isn't the first time the Swansea site has garnered attention. Since 2015-16, there have been 84 serious incidents reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the second highest out of all of Amazon's UK "fulfillment centres".

An Amazon spokesperson got in touch with Alphr to assert out that, according to the UK government's Health and Safety Executive RIDDOR, "Amazon has over 40% fewer injuries on average than other transportation and warehousing companies." As for the company's targets, the firm maintains that, "as with nearly all companies, we expect a certain level of performance from our associates and we continue to set productivity targets objectively, based on previous performance levels achieved by our workforce." Support and coaching are offered to those struggling. Break times are longer than legally required, and toilets are easily accessible – and available to use whenever needed, the spokesperson continued.

Europe and beyond was shaken by the #AmazonStrike earlier this year, a multi-country feat of direct action that ended in anger and, in some instances, violence. Now it seems that the protests – which hit the ecommerce giant's mammoth flash sale "Prime Day" – have galvanised Amazon workers to come forward and share stories of inhumane treatment, neglect and eventual destitution. 

In a recently published investigation by The Guardian, workers came forth to decry the treatment they allegedly received at the hands of Amazon. Speaking to Michael Sainato, 49-year-old Vickie Shannon Allen detailed how a workplace injury left her unable to perform her job. The situation, ostensibly easily solved by a company that makes more than $178 billion (£135 billion) in revenue and is helmed by a man worth $150 billion (£114 billion), left Allen homeless.

 

And Allen's may not be an isolated case. The Guardian reports numerous similar cases coming to light; take 43-year-old Bryan Hill of Seffner, Florida, who filed a lawsuit against Amazon purporting that managers failed to file a workers' compensation claim after he hurt his back on the job. Hill maintains that his plight was dismissed by managers, who dubbed him "too young" to have back problems. And this is just the tip of the whistleblower iceberg.

The accusations come hot on the heels of the recent strikes organised by Amazon employees. Last month, thousands of the company's workers staged strikes across Europe in order to demand better working conditions, with some protests ending in violent clashes. Reports came in from Spanish newspaper Público that strikers had been charged by police in riot gear, on the alleged grounds that the former were blocking traffic.

At least two of those protesting were arrested, with harrowing images shared on social media detailing the extent of the clash. Alberto Rodríguez, a member of Spain's Congress of Deputies, shared an image of what appeared to be a bloodied shirt in front of Amazon's San Fernando de Henares warehouse. 

Rodríguez also shared a 20-second clip of police wielding truncheons menacingly, amid allegations of that one worker was hit in the face with one, losing teeth as a result. "The police charge against [...] workers [...] preventing their constitutional right to strike," he asserted. "Shame." 

Participants of the three-day strike hail from countries across Europe – home to some of the world’s biggest economies – including Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland, France and the UK. Strikers demanding that their labour contracts guarantee healthy working conditions, with a mass walkout planned for Amazon’s annual ecommerce event Prime Day.

READ NEXT: Who is Jeff Bezos? What you need to know about the man behind Amazon

Workers were protesting the conditions at their places of work, which Amazon has dubbed “fulfilment centres”. Tensions have been running high amid horror stories from Amazon workers in the wake of news that Jeff Bezos is now worth $150 billion (around £113 billion); employees have reported skipping bathroom breaks and falling asleep standing up in attempts to meet targets and keep their jobs. Meanwhile, Bezos – the richest person in modern history – continues to amass his vast wealth.

The walkout was orchestrated by a group called Amazon En Lucha, with the original protest planned for the Amazon fulfilment centre outside of Madrid yesterday. Picketers wore Jeff Bezos masks (ironically available on Amazon) in order to protest the billionaire’s failure to keep his promises on working conditions.

Amazon went into full damage-control mode, declaring itself fair and responsible employer: “We believe in continuous improvement across our network and maintain an open and direct dialogue with associates,” a spokesperson for the company said.

READ NEXT: How to cancel Amazon Prime membership

It stressed its role in pan-European job creation, saying: “Amazon has invested over €15 billion and created over 65,000 permanent jobs across Europe since 2010. These are good jobs with highly competitive pay, full benefits, and innovative training programmes like Career Choice that pre-pays 95% of tuition for associates. We provide safe and positive working conditions, and encourage anyone to come see for themselves by taking a tour at one of our fulfillment centres.”

But for all the company’s talk of “safe and positive working conditions,” a Freedom of Information request revealed that ambulances have been called out 600 times to Amazon’s UK warehouses in the past three years alone. The company deemed this statistic insufficient to sully its reputation as a fair and responsible employer, saying, “it is simply not correct to suggest that we have unsafe working conditions based on ambulance call-out data or unsubstantiated anecdotes”.

More recently, an Amazon spokesperson has reached out to Alphr, to clarify that "Ambulance visits at our UK FCs last year were recorded at 0.00001 per worked hour, which is very low. Requests for ambulance services at our fulfulment centres are predominantly associated with personal health events and are not work-related."

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Employees think otherwise, if these strikes are anything to go by. And while Elon Musk garners criticism for his GOP donations and redundant rescue submarines, Bezos has long gone unnoticed as a vaguely avuncular tech boss.

For its part, Amazon is urging critics to take a look for themselves. "We encourage everyone to compare our pay, benefits, and working conditions to others and come see for yourself on one of the public tours we offer every day at our centers across the UK uk.amazonfctours.com," came the core statement from a company spokesperson. The saga continues. 

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