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UK – Amazon workers could face increased risk of mental and physical illness

26 November 2013

Online retailing giant Amazon has been investigated by the BBC’s Panorama programme following claims that the company employs workers under some of the worst conditions in Britain. An undercover investigator was sent to work in the company’s Swansea warehouse to secretly film conditions.

The undercover reporter was employed as an item picker through a recruitment agency. During his employment, he worked 10-and-a-half hour night shifts, was expected to pick an item every 33 seconds, and walked up to 11 miles a night.

Each picker is assigned a hand-held scanning device that provides directions to their next item and also a countdown of how long they have to source the next item. The hand-held device emits beeping noises when users scan items and a warning noise when they scan the wrong item, both of which add to the pressured environment. During the secret filming, the undercover reporter experienced blisters, exhaustion, and stress.

A statement from the BBC said: “Panorama’s footage was shown to a stress expert who said “the evidence shows increased risk of mental illness and physical illness.”

The expert, Professor Michael Marmot, told the BBC: “There is always going to be menial jobs, but we can make them better or worse. And it seems to me the demands of efficiency [are] at the cost of an individual’s health and wellbeing – it’s got to be balanced.”

Amazon has created 5,000 permanent jobs nationwide and is expected to hire as many as 15,000 temporary workers for the festive season.

The company advised that potential employees are warned that the job may be demanding and that performance targets have been set according to previous performance levels. Those working the night shift are expected to work four days a week, during which time they will work for 10-and-a-half hours with a one hour break.

However, lawyers have advised that the shifts could breach working time regulations due to the long hours and demanding nature of the job.

Giles Bedloe, an employment barrister at Dyers Chambers, said: “If the work involves heavy physical and or mental strain, then that night worker should not work more than eight hours in any 24 hour period…the basis for that is to protect the rights and interests of the employees.”

Amazon remains defiant that its’ working conditions are safe and that they are proud of providing a safe and positive workplace. 

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