Amazon factory workers in Britain are sleeping in tents close to one of the company’s largest UK warehouses because they can’t afford the commute to work, Scottish newspaper The Courier has reported.
Amazon maintains one of its giant packaging warehouses, known as fulfilment centers, near the town of Dunfermline in Scotland. Over the weekend, The Courier said it had seen at least three tents in woodland close to the Dunfermline warehouse, and spoke to one Amazon worker who was staying in a tent.
According to the newspaper, the worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said that they couldn’t afford to pay to travel to work and back from their home in Perth—around a 60 mile round trip. While Amazon pays its Scottish staff above the minimum wage in Britain, workers can be pushed to work up to 60 hours a week. The company provides a bus transport for workers, but this can cost up to £10 a day, more than an Amazon worker’s initial hourly pay of £7.35 ($9.30).
The facility, one of 12 in the UK, hosts 1,500 permanent staff, but the increase in order demand around the Christmas and New Year period sees more than 3,000 extra staff hired. The incident throws light on the hidden supply chains and unseen labor of online shopping, especially during busy periods.
"The intensity of the work means that people are just working, eating and sleeping,"
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, who has previously been critical of Amazon’s operations in Scotland, told Motherboard via email that while in this particular case The Courier was only available to identify one Amazon worker who was staying in a tent, the issue does speak to a wider problem that exists within Amazon.
“The wages are too low which means people are driven to live like this to make work pay. The intensity of the work means that people are just working, eating and sleeping,” he said. Motherboard asked Rennie whether workers resorting to sleeping in tents was a case of low pay or too many working hours. He replied, “It is a bit of both. It's long hours, low pay and intense work. Pickers are expected to walk a half marathon a day. They work until they drop.”
Amazon has often come under fire for its employment practices. In 2015, a widely-read New York Times piece lambasted Amazon’s office practices, and just this weekend, an undercover investigation by British newspaper The Times found how Amazon staff at the fulfilment center are threatened with the sack if they take sick leave, even if they have permission from a doctor. The investigation uncovered one Dunfermline worker who had spent three days in hospital with a kidney infection, but still faced penalties despite a note from the hospital. “The undercover reporter was paid £7.35 per hour by an agency that supplies workers to Amazon, but was left with less than the minimum wage after paying £10 for the agency’s bus which took her to the site 40 miles from her home in Glasgow,” said The Times. “Workers were expected to cover more than 10 miles a day in the warehouse collecting items, but water dispensers to ensure they avoided dehydration were regularly empty.” British trade union GMB has also criticised Amazon, arguing Amazon employees are forced to be an “above average Amazon robot”.
Read more: Amazon’s 24/7 Hell Is the Future of Work
In an emailed statement, Amazon UK told Motherboard, “Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace. The safety and wellbeing of our permanent and temporary associates is our number one priority.” The company also said it is proud to have created thousands of permanent jobs in its UK fulfilment centers over the last five years. “We pay competitive wages - all permanent and temporary Amazon associates start on £7.35 an hour or above regardless of age and £11 an hour and above for overtime,” said Amazon. The national living wage in Britain is £7.20 an hour for workers over the age of 25.
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