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Amazon drives coach and horses through its own zero-hours rules

AMAZON ignored its own rules by hiring thousands of agency workers on zero-hour contracts — which left many struggling to recoup unpaid wages, a major investigation has revealed.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) uncovered a sordid trail of agency workers left in debt and shifts cancelled without notice, as the online retail giant raked in £20 billion in sales during the Covid pandemic.

Amazon, whose boss Jeff Bezos has personal wealth of £135bn, stood accused of attempting to distance itself from appalling treatment of workers by hiding behind agencies, which hired 20,000 seasonal workers last year.

Despite Amazon’s claim that “our agency terms are explicit that Amazon does not engage individuals on zero-hour contracts,” the investigation found that thousands of jobs advertised by the Adecco agency were for exactly that.

Another agency, PMP Recruitment, offered “minimum-hours” contracts without guaranteed weekly or monthly hours — although PMP denies the claim — despite Amazon’s boast that it guarantees pay for at least 20 hours a week.

BIJ spoke to 16 Amazon warehouse workers and analysed online comments from nearly 200 others.

Workers recruited by both agencies recounted trying for weeks or even months to recoup unpaid or incorrectly paid wages.

Olivia Hall said she was owed around £400 after working at an Amazon warehouse in Doncaster.

She said: “One week I was paid £70 and that’s because they’d reduced my shifts to three, but they’d also not paid me for two of the shifts and that took me about five weeks to sort out actually getting paid for those shifts.”

Nathan, who worked for Adecco in an Amazon fulfilment centre in Motherwell said: “In that second week, I think I did about two shifts, the rest got cancelled, so it would have only been about 12 hours.

“When they started cancelling a lot of shifts you couldn't really plan to do anything because you would think you'd be on, you think you'd be working the next day. You wouldn’t really know until eight, 9pm at night.”

Andras Podor, who worked at an Amazon warehouse near Bournemouth, said: “They [PMP Recruitment] can send you a message four hours before the job has started cancelling your shift. That happened a lot. I started looking for another job because I said to myself, weekly, £200 is nothing.”

The use of agencies allowed Amazon to keep itself at “arm’s-length” from the workers, Nigel Mackay, a partner at the law firm Leigh Day, said.

He described the set-up as a way for the company to “disassociate itself from [the workers’] mistreatment.” 

The GMB union’s Mick Rix said: “Temporary agency work can be one of the worst forms of exploitative employment methods.”

He accused Amazon of using “workers as a commodity.”

Labour shadow employment rights secretary Andy McDonald said the BIJ’s findings revealed “the government is presiding over a return to Dickensian working conditions which leave workers with no idea what hours they will work or how they will pay their bills.”

PMP told the BIJ that it had “robust procedures in place to ensure that if pay queries do occur they are resolved swiftly,” and Adecco said: “We are in regular communication with all our associates to ensure they have a clear understanding of their work assignments.”

Amazon insisted that it did not engage individuals on zero-hour contracts and that the majority of temporary agency staff were offered a 40-hour week.

The full investigation can be read at www.thebureauinvestigates.com

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