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Friday 25th
posted by Morning Star in Features

Amazon’s anti-union policy is rooted in a culture of ruthless exploitation and utter disregard for human rights. It needs to be exposed, confronted and combated steadfastly, writes TAM KIRBY

AMAZON introduced the US consumer frenzy of “Black Friday” into Britain in 2010.

On that day last year Amazon sold more than 7.4 million items at a rate of around 86 items per second, while agency workers were working up to 60 hours per week for little more than the minimum wage.

These new “associates” were tracked and monitored every minute of their working day and sacked if they failed to meet the unrealistic targets.

There have been new revelations that the company’s delivery drivers are treated in the same draconian fashion and put under pressure to break speed limits and work excessive hours.

To that end, Fife People’s Assembly and Fife Trades Union Council, with the support of the STUC, will be holding another demonstration outside Amazon’s warehouse in Dunfermline today at 10am.

Between October and Christmas, Amazon is reported to be recruiting up to 4,000 temporary workers for the Dunfermline facility.

They will all be supplied and managed by employment agencies. These agencies such as Transline are actually advertising the jobs as: ?“We have now increased the pay rates available, and you can earn up to £14.70 an hour (day rate) and £16.46 an hour (night rates). Earn £294 a week (before tax — day shift) on basic standard hours.

Potential to earn up to £477 a week with overtime (before tax — day shift). You could earn even more on the night shift (but we know not all of you are night owls).”

In fact the new pay rates are the direct result of the increase in the minimum wage by George Osborne with the basic rate of £7.35 per hour only 15p above the statutory minimum wage.

Transline, PMP, Search and others all offer the exact same £7.35 per hour day shift and £9.11 night shift. The supposed £14.70 day and £16.46 night rates apply only after you have worked beyond the working time directive threshold of 48 hours. They only kick in after you have worked five 10-hour shifts.

This is why the first thing any Amazon employee must do is to sign an opt out from the working time directive.

This could of course be seen by some as false advertising — when has anyone ever advertised a rate of pay that is triggered only after working 50 hours?

Employment agency Cordant advertise the same jobs at £7.25 per hour (day) and £9.01 per hour (night) — 10p an hour less. Strangely Cordant owns PMP.

Of course, the same employees will be expected to hit exactly the same — nearly impossible — targets on the 60th hour as they are on the first hour. And these hours do not take into account the additional hours some employees will have traveled from as far afield as Glasgow, Dundee and Stirling.

One good thing over this period is that zero-hours work and people being sent home due to no work will be minimised as Amazon seeks to maximise output and increase sales and profits.

There will still be the usual revolving door employment policy — those unable to maintain the targets after working up to 60 hours, being replaced as a matter of course by a new intake.

Or indeed if anyone falls foul of their six strikes/three points and you’re out policy. Being ill, taking too long in the toilet, arriving one minute late from break, being deemed to be walking too slow, not achieving the ever increasing targets, etc.

And of course at the end of the period the thousands who have been put through the mill will be discarded just like the wrapping on the products they have helped to deliver. This is usually done at a mass meeting telling the “associates” they are now surplus to requirement.

It is strange how Amazon counters any talk of union recognition, by stating they maintain a culture of direct individual dialogue with their associates. On the one hand any complaints over health and safety, working conditions and discipline are carried out on a one-to-one basis between the management and the associate and on the other hand mass sackings are carried out on a collective basis.

The reality here is that this exploitation of its associates through data tracking, bullying and coercion can only be maintained if itcontinues to exclude workers from their right to organise collectively and join a union. 

Amazon has it within its power to create a truly first-class working environment, but this is always negated by the drive for profits at all costs. It is always at the expense of the workers who are treated no better than drones.

Workers who are treated as commodities to be used and abused for a few weeks then sent back into the arms of the Department for Work and Pensions.

Let’s also be clear on this. Once robotics and automation are capable of carrying out all the duties these associates now do, there will be no mass job creation at Christmas.

Robotics is something Amazon is actively working on and is introducing throughout its warehouse facilities. This automation will be realised and come into service quicker than anyone expects. Then there will be not even be the negligible benefits to the local economy we have now.

There will only be Amazon.

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