Bloodworth: Use of agencies a factor in poor conditions at Amazon

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Agency usage is perpetuating poor working conditions at Amazon, author James Bloodworth has said

While Amazon had put policies in place after previous investigations into its working practices, the company’s continued use of agencies to enlist workers means little has changed, said author James Bloodworth, speaking at a Resolution Foundation event.

“There have been exposés of Amazon before -including one by Panorama in 2013 - and, following that, they said that they no longer carry out disciplinaries for sickness, time toilet breaks, or hire people on zero-hours contracts," he said. "They don’t, but the agencies Amazon use do. It’s all in the public domain but there doesn’t seem to be any appetite from government to look into what’s going on."

For his book Hired, Bloodworth undertook several low-paid casual jobs across the UK to uncover the effects of the changing job market on workers.

Working at Amazon involves “daily humiliation”, the author stated. He reported that bosses timed toilet breaks, underpaid staff, and carried out disciplinary action for taking sick leave during his month working at an Amazon warehouse in 2016.

“I’d worked in warehouses before and it was fairly bleak, but this was on a completely different level," Bloodworth said at the Resolution Foundation talk. "Amazon, or the agencies it uses, would essentially flout employment law. I interviewed a woman who at one point was only paid 62p per hour, and it took six weeks to claw back the pay. I was paid less than minimum wage for half the time I was there.

“Aside from that, there was the daily humiliation of the job. If you took just one day off you’d have a disciplinary for it, even if you’d given the required notice and handed in a doctor’s note. They’d just say ‘this is what Amazon has always done'. There were lots of small assaults on material poverty, and a lack of dignity in the work.”

Commenting separately on the allegations, partner and head of national HR practice at Berwick Partners Basil leRoux told HR magazine that poor management and outdated attitudes towards productivity are partially to blame.

“On a fundamental level it’s dehumanising; how could anyone treat people like that?" he said. "The working conditions described seem Dickensian. A lot of this might come down to hiring ineffective frontline managers, who have a ruthless attitude towards trying to increase productivity with no regard for an employee’s wellbeing. It points to a lack of control."

This comes as a recent survey carried out via campaigning platform Organise of workers at Amazon's BHX1 warehouse in Rugeley found that, of the 105 workers surveyed, 74% feared taking toilet breaks in case they missed targets. Additionally, 55% said they had suffered depression since starting their roles, and 81% said they would not apply for a job there again.

Amazon said in a statement: “Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace for thousands of people across the UK with competitive pay and benefits from day one. We have not been provided with confirmation that the people who completed the survey worked at Amazon and we don’t recognise these allegations as an accurate portrayal of activities in our buildings.”

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