Amazon Strikes: Workers Claim Robots are Treated Better

Amazon workers are staging the first ever UK strike on Wednesday against the online giant in a protest over pay. Around 300 staff walked out at Amazon’s Coventry warehouse, the GMB union said, over what they called a “derisory” 5% pay rise to £10.50 an hour.

Workers told the BBC about “severe” conditions, claiming they are constantly monitored and upbraided for “idle time” lasting just a few minutes.

Amazon said it has a system “that recognises great performance”. A spokesman said it “also encourages coaching to help employees improve if they are not meeting their performance goals”. Two Amazon workers, who are members of the GMB, said the robots in the warehouse “are treated better than us”.

Darren Westwood and Garfield Hilton described to the BBC how even a trip to the toilet can lead to questions by managers. “The thing with stopping work is that they want to know why,” said Mr Hilton. “So if the time is beyond a couple of minutes they can see it on the system. They will question you”.

Mr Hilton, who has diabetes, said it is not always possible to find toilets close by in the building and the process of locating one and returning can sometimes take upwards of 15 minutes.
“They will then question you, ‘what were you doing?'”

The men said that managers track staff performance, and time that is not spent scanning items is accrued.

Workers at the Coventry warehouse scan stock which is sent out to Amazon fulfillment centres, to be shipped to consumers.

Instead of scanning, workers might be asked to handle pallets. “So when there are problems with a pallet or a box, that time will accrue,” said Mr Westwood. “Technically it could add up to 30 minutes. [The managers] will come down and say, ‘during today, you’ve had 34 minutes of idle time. What were you doing?”

A spokesman for Amazon said: “Performance is only measured when an employee is at their station and logged in to do their job. “If an employee logs out, which they can do at any time, the performance management tool is paused.”

But Mr Westwood and Mr Hilton said some colleagues were working 60-hour weeks to keep up with the cost of living.

Mr Hilton said that he has seen workers falling asleep on the short bus ride to Amazon’s warehouse. “There’s a huge amount of them in the building virtually in ghost mode.” He said Amazon wants “every minute in that building to be maximised”.

“You have to look at it this way, if the box with the product is not moving, you’re not making money. This is Amazon. If there’s a problem with a box, it’s a loss-maker. If the box leaves a building it is making money.”

In August, Amazon offered workers a 50p per hour pay rise.

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