Amazon: Working hard and against the clock

PanoramaBBC 1 Panorama aired an insider secret film show about the life of an Amazon picker working in their Swansea warehouse.

Their infiltrator smuggled in a camera and recorded his working life, starting on the day shift and then transferring to the night shift.

The work looked pretty tough to be honest – working a 10.5 hour shift with an hour break and a scanner which timed how long it takes to pick each item with a count down to let you know when you’re running behind. Occasionally the lights failed (probably less often than was shown, but we all know that sort of event is gold dust for TV) and apparently the shift involves walking around 16 miles per shift.

Blisters for someone that’s got new boots and not used to walking long distances are of course an inevitable problem but if you watch the show on iPlayer you’ll get the distinct impression that it’s a hellish way to earn a living.

To contrast the show, after the end of Panorama there was a 72 year old chap on BBC News who also works for Amazon. He said the work wasn’t really that hard, that he loved it and that Amazon is a great place to work. I like how the BBC are balanced enough to show someone who enjoys working for Amazon but it’s a bit of a shame it was on the news and that Panorama didn’t also balance their footage with interviews of long term employees and what they thought of their jobs.

There’s absolutely no question from seeing the programme that working for Amazon is just that – work. It’s hard graft and if a slacker happily drawing the dole is forced to take up a job there it’s going to be a shocking wakeup call as to how the other half live. To balance that however I’m sure Posties delivering our mail, Hod Carriers on building sites, Dustmen clearing our rubbish (who hasn’t seen them jogging around on bin day) and any number of people working in other jobs don’t work just as hard.

Working for Amazon definitely isn’t for everyone, Panorama made that clear. The real question however is was the program balanced and how many Amazon workers love their jobs?

The other thing I found faintly amusing was the contrast with the owner of a small chain of bookshops. He’s had to close a couple of shops as life on the High Street is tough. He also complained that he couldn’t compete with Amazon on price for the latest best sellers. What absolutely shocked me however was they filmed the launch party for his website! Hard to believe a multiple outlet retailer also selling on Amazon hadn’t set up a website before now.