It’s no secret that Amazon has become notorious in recent years for allegations of gruelling working conditions.
The company, owned by the richest man in the world, has repeatedly been hit by criticism for its alleged mistreatment of staff and dehumanising work.
A five-week Mirror investigation in 2017 for example revealed staff being pushed to the point of exhaustion and punishing targets in a warehouse in Essex.
One worker at the same warehouse said in October this year that workers were being treated like “slaves” and were under constant pressure to work faster.
It’s no surprise then that a new Amazon distribution centre near Bristol, which opened in July this year and employs more than 1,000 people, has already been targeted by GMB, the union for Amazon workers.
Just days after a planned protest, Bristol Live was given a tour of the centre in Severn Beach and an insight into warehouse life during the busiest time of the year.
On arriving at the massive 500,000sqft warehouse, we were given visitor passes and told to stay within the blue lines as we made our way around the enormous centre.
Our tour guide, David Nieberg from the company’s public relations team, was quick to address the elephant in the room.
A few days previously, GMB had pledged to demonstrate outside the centre over claims Amazon workers have to endure “appalling treatment” at such warehouses.
“The protest was just 45 minutes long and only a small handful of activists,” Mr Nieberg told Bristol Live.
“None of our employees were involved in the protests.”
We were then shown some of Amazon’s latest technology – wheeled, robotic machines which pick up products for dispatch.
Thousands of these robot-powered shelves move about independently in an enormous fenced-off area and use cameras to avoid crashing into each other.
It is the job of hundreds of employees in the centre to pack these shelves with a variety of Amazon products.
Asked about the targets these workers have to hit, Mr Nieberg said: “Of course there are targets because we’re a business – the building can’t operate without targets.
“The staff aren’t being monitored every second or every minute though, that’s just not the case.”
When later asked what these targets are, Mr Nieberg said Amazon “expect a certain level of performance from our associates” and “continue to set productivity targets objectively, based on previous performance levels”.
Our guide also added that employees are paid a starting wage of £10.50 an hour and are offered a number of benefits, such as private health care and employee discounts.
What the employees said
On the next floor, thousands of items are packaged by employees before being placed on miles and miles of conveyor belts to be dispatched to customers.
Lennard Du Toit, a worker we encountered on our guided tour, said he had been an employee of Amazon for 10 years.
Describing how the company had changed over the past decade, he said: “It’s a lot more streamlined now.
“It’s more organised, health and safety has improved and things are getting better all the time.”
“To be honest it’s a lot of hard work but you find ways to entertain associates,” he said.
“We have competitions and we try to keep spirits up.”
Pat Faulkner, general manager at the centre, was positive about his experience with the retail giant and said he was “really pleased” he had joined Amazon.
He went on to say that the Christmas period was “busier but not more stressful” and that the company hires additional temporary workers to help tackle the extra demand.
In response to allegations of poor working conditions at the Essex warehouse, an Amazon spokesperson told Mirror Online: “We do not recognise these allegations as an accurate portrayal of activities in our building.
“Tilbury fulfilment centre is a safe and positive workplace.
“Safety is our No1 priority and we take the wellbeing of our associates extremely seriously.
“We will always call an ambulance if one is required.
“Our team of on-site first-aiders follow NHS guidance when an ambulance should be called.”
In response to criticisms from the GMB union, Amazon has also said it’s accident and incident record was actually better than most other distribution and warehouse firms.
“Amazon is a safe place to work and reports to the contrary are simply wrong,” a spokesperson said.
“Amazon has created more than 25,000 good jobs with good pay and benefits across Britain and we are proud of the work they do on behalf of customers every day.”
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