21 August 2015
A New York times article has published an exposée on the working environment at Amazon HQ – painting a picture of a truly nightmare employer.
The article reports that employees lives and performances being tracked and rated by their employers, with those with the lowest scored being sacked. Colleagues were encouraged to evaluate each other on secret feedback forms, fostering a culture of backstabbing and intentional career sabotage. This focus individual performance rather than teamwork and collaboration created a darwinian and unhealthy work environment.
Employees were expected to instantly reply to emails, even in the middle of the night.
One featured employer was put on a “performance improvement plan” (Amazon code for “you’re in danger of being fired”, the article tells us) while suffering from breast cancer, and another was forced on a business trip the day after having a miscarriage. “I’m sorry, the work is still going to need to get done,” her boss told her. If the multiple testimonies in the article are anything to go by, these incidents are far from isolated.
But its well documented that the Amazon problem isn’t limited to Amazon’s white-collar workers at head office. A BBC Panorama investigation into working conditions in an Amazon warehouse in the UK revealed its abysmal treatment of shop floor employees. One worker was shown walking 11 miles on a shift and collecting an order every 33 seconds. 15 minute breaks start on-the-dot, regardless of where the employee is in the giant warehouse. According to the BBC, “experts have told Panorama the 10-and-a-half-hour night shifts could breach the working time regulations because of the long hours and the strenuous nature of the work”. Toilet breaks are monitored, and if an employee is a minute late more than three times, they are routinely dismissed.
Its no wonder then that the GMB says its members at Amazon are developing physical and mental illnesses.
Amazon employs 7,000 workers in the UK. GMB’s lead officer for Amazon, Elly Baker, told the Times that; “It’s hard, physical work, but the constant stress of being monitored and never being able to drop below a certain level of performance is harsh. You can’t be a normal person. You have to be an above-average Amazon robot all the time.”
This is supported in the New York Times article; it states that “Company veterans often say the genius of Amazon is the way it drives them to drive themselves. “If you’re a good Amazonian, you become an Amabot,” said one employee, using a term that means you have become at one with the system.” – a sentence that would be at home in dystopian fiction.
If this is the kind of malpractice happening under current employment rights legislation, the Tories’ drive to erode workers rights through the Trade Union Bill and opting out of EU legislation means the future employment landscape doesn’t bear thinking about.