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A tiny cog in a massive distribution machine

By Chris Dawson December 2, 2013 - 6:30 am

©Bob Johns / UNP 01274 412222Yet another reporter has wangled her way into a week’s work at Amazon’s Swansea warehouse. This time it’s Carole Cadwalladr from the Guardian.

It comes at the weekend when Amazon sell a record breaking four million items on so called “Black Friday”, the biggest sales day in Amazon’s history. Today “Cyber Monday” when people have been out Christmas shopping all weekend and are now back at their desks still eager so spend their final paycheck before Christmas, is expected to be even busier.

This time once you get through the inevitable journalistic spin it’s a much more balanced article, looking at how “actual people rub up against the business demands of one of the most sophisticated technology companies on the planet”.

Like Panorama last week, Carole says that “There’s no doubt that it is hard, physical work” but also adds “But lots of jobs involve hard, physical work. That’s not the thing that bothers people”. What’s interesting from Carole’s article is that people actually want to work for Amazon and what really concerns them is the lack of job security.

All the majority of the 15,000 temporary workers at Amazon want is a permanent job. They wouldn’t mind the long hours, the hard work and walking up to 15 hours a day if they new that they were there to stay. It might not be their first choice of work, the reality is that there simply aren’t any other jobs in Swansea. However according to Carole it’s hard work but it is a job and that’s all they’re asking for. The reality of course is that Amazon may take on several thousand seasonal workers permanently in the new year, but as Amazon say “unfortunately, we simply cannot retain 15,000 seasonal employees”.

There’s nothing wrong with that, it would be bizarre to believe that other companies like Royal Mail would also retain their 21,000 Christmas temps once the holiday season was over. However a permanent job is the Christmas present dream for Amazon temp workers and that job would be at Amazon.

Interesting Amazon pickers do get a break, the Sun came out during one of Carole’s shifts and workers were told to stop picking as orders had switched off “like a tap”. Apparently when it rains “it can suddenly go mental”.

MPs and journalists are all too happy calling for people to boycott at worst or “think about it” at best next time you’re tempted to click the buy box on Amazon. I have a slightly different view, don’t just buy on Amazon at Christmas, click on that buy box throughout the whole year and give someone in Swansea a permanent job.

  • 3 years ago

    I watched the BBC prog, haven’t read the Grauniad article, but this does sound a lot more balanced. I live in Swansea and can certainly confirm that unskilled work here – the kind that Amazon offers – is scarcer than honest politicians. Yes, it’s hard. But most unskilled work is. The Beeb’s shock at working conditions says more about the lavish employment conditions at the BBC than about the realities of real world work today.
    There’s much worse jobs than working for Amazon!

  • Gary
    3 years ago

    Balanced views? BBC are not dependent on advertising for revenue. Guardian not going to upset customer. What jobs are worse than working at Amazon? Please don’t say McDo.

  • mw
    3 years ago

    “…….click on that buy box throughout the whole year and give someone in Swansea a permanent job”
    In the article the journalist makes note of the automated system Amazon just invested in. Then it’s going to be bye-bye most jobs. It also explains in part Amazons preference for temp & agency staff. Long term plans means no redundancy payment to pay when the inevitable automation is implemented.

  • It is possible to run a good fulfilment warehouse, with flexible contracts and staff performance ratings without resorting to zero hours contracts or ticking clocks.

    It would not impact Amazons profits or fulfilment efficiency to offer a minimum number of guaranteed hours. Job security is not the end of it, paying a living wage, and not just minimum wage is also very important.

    Investing time in warehouse employees will lead to a better, happier and ultimately more efficient workforce. If mistakes are simply counted as black marks against an employee with a ‘three strikes and you’re out rule’, this will not foster a healthy, efficient workforce.

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