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Amazon UK Working Conditions Could Cause Mental Illness

By - Source: BBC News | B 19 comments
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Amazon is currently investigating whether certain warehouse jobs meet legal requirements.

Recently the BBC conducted an investigation into a UK-based Amazon warehouse and discovered what one stress expert says is working conditions that could cause "mental and physical illness." The BBC provided this expert with actual footage of an undercover worker who was expected to retrieve orders every 33 seconds in Amazon's Swansea 800,000 square foot warehouse.

According to the BBC, the online retail giant has hired on 15,000 extra staff to handle the holiday load. One of these new hires was undercover reporter Adam Littler, 23, who took a camera inside to record what happens on his shifts. He was employed as a "picker," an individual who collects orders stored in the warehouse.

While that doesn't sound too difficult, he was equipped with a handheld scanner that told him what to retrieve, and how many seconds he was allowed to have between retrievals. If he made a mistake – meaning if he arrived at the next product after the timer finished counting down – then it beeped.

"We are machines, we are robots, we plug our scanner in, we're holding it, but we might as well be plugging it into ourselves," he told the BBC. "We don't think for ourselves, maybe they don't trust us to think for ourselves as human beings, I don't know."

Littler told the BBC that the scanner tracked his picking rate, and sent that performance to shift managers. If the average gets too low, pickers are warned that they could face disciplinary action. However, when he worked night shifts, his pay rose from £6.50 per hour during the day to £8.25 per hour during the night.

"I managed to walk or hobble nearly 11 miles, just short of 11 miles last night. I'm absolutely shattered. My feet are the thing that are bothering me the most to be honest," he said after working a ten-and-a-half hour night shift.

Prof Michael Marmot, one of Britain's leading experts on stress at work, told the BBC that Amazon's warehouse has working conditions that are "all the bad stuff at once," that there are increased risk of mental illness and physical illness. Other unnamed experts said that the shifts Littler described could breach the working time regulations.

But Amazon claims that there haven't been any concerns in official safety inspections, and that an independent expert appointed by the company said the "picker" job is no different than "similar to jobs in many other industries and does not increase the risk of mental and physical illness." The company also said that new recruits are warned of the physical requirements of some positions, and that those on the night shift only work four-day weeks and receive an hour's break per shift.

Still, Amazon said that its night shift is lawful, but will seek out expert advice to make sure that all shifts comply with the relevant legal requirements. Hey, at least they're not paid in Amazon Coins for all that hard work...

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  • 0 Hide
    ZolaIII , December 1, 2013 4:17 AM
    Cheap automatons for mechanical work that don't need programing & a part of the "New brave world".
    & now reconsider the actual product name "Pro wite"!
  • 0 Hide
    Josh Brumpton , December 1, 2013 4:34 AM
    If any of you want to watch it it's the "panorma- the truth behind the click" 30minutes long, well worth watching. I think If there gonna make them do such a physically intensive job at least pay well.
  • 2 Hide
    eza , December 1, 2013 5:17 AM
    for some reason, I was under the impression that all the Amazon picking was done by robots in silent massive warehouses.
    didn't realise that real people do it
  • Display all 19 comments.
  • 4 Hide
    makaveli316 , December 1, 2013 5:24 AM
    It's not only Amazon. They are a lot of companies, even not that big ones. We are modern slaves and there's nothing we can do.
    I would understand if the job is well paid, but that's just not the case.
    No way in hell i'm doing this job, even if the money is good.
    I'd rather earn less money, work my 8 hours and not a minute more and chill at work, rather than destroy my self for a couple more bucks. I did that when i was younger, but not anymore, it's not worth it.
  • 6 Hide
    mouse24 , December 1, 2013 5:33 AM
    Just watched it, honestly it seemed like it was extremely biased and the guy was a huge whiner.

    Hes working at a job hes not cut out for, it requires lots of walking and thats pretty much it. Its about as simplistic a job as you can hope for, its not skilled in any way, what did he expect?

    Amazon seems a bit strict on there workers but thats just because its such a low tier job that they have an abundance of people who will tolerate being treated like such.

    There was nothing wrong with the work environment, no issues with health or safety, its just he didn't like how he was being treated and how "hard" he had to work.
  • 8 Hide
    Jacob Kral , December 1, 2013 5:43 AM
    Get over it wimps.. this is a completely normal job in America.. yeah it's a bit exhausting, but he also didn't have to walk that distance, they provide mini fork lifts you could drive around (and need to reach stuff on high shelves)..
    A picker is pretty much a standard position in any warehousing business.

    Eventually they will get smart warehouses that robotically fetch all these things, but then I bet you'll be whining about how the machines should be banned because they are stealing your job..
  • 0 Hide
    goodguy713 , December 1, 2013 6:28 AM
    amazon is not for the weak hearted or the lazy. For those of you who say the job is meaning less ask all those people who get their orders on time. Its not about who dose what or how they do it but as long as it gets done right. Amazon has always been about the customer and the employees tend to take the back burner. but they have made changes in the last few years that have made working for them a little easier.

    and most people dont realize that as the world moves to more and more online shopping there will be more and more people needed. retail brick and mortar places typically do not pay any where near what amazon dose.

  • 2 Hide
    Nilo BP , December 1, 2013 7:06 AM
    And people complain that the evil corporations are shedding jobs in the West and moving to the East. Frankly, if I had to deal with whining employees augmented by TV sensationalism like this, I would set up shop somewhere else too.

    And the worst part is that schools and the media continue to mass-produce entitled brats who think that hard work is beneath them.
  • 6 Hide
    Andy Chow , December 1, 2013 7:54 AM
    People can't tolerate such simple jobs, then don't be surprised more and more factories shut down.

    Amazon just provided 15 000 jobs. Any thanks?
  • 1 Hide
    egilbe , December 1, 2013 7:54 AM
    walking 11 miles and he's whining? WTF? Lazy UK bastards need to learn what hard work is.
  • 0 Hide
    rahvinous , December 1, 2013 8:08 AM
    The British are awfully lazy folk anyways, just look at the cars they built back in the 70s and 80s, there is a reason why the German car industry took everything from them. It creates jobs, be grateful, is it the best job? No, but at least it's bringing food on the table. Secondly, I doubt working conditions are that bad, this isn't Foxconn or something. You have one simple job, don't whine, just do it.
  • 2 Hide
    chibiwings , December 1, 2013 8:11 AM
    in our country lots of people will grab hist job anyday.. same job usually paid for $7-$8 for an 8 hours shift.
  • 0 Hide
    jeffredo , December 1, 2013 9:39 AM
    A Polish migrant in the UK would do it without any complaining and probably do the job better.
  • 4 Hide
    pills161 , December 1, 2013 9:51 AM
    This guy just isn't cut out for the job. I myself did this very job with one of Amazons current competitors and it wasn't such a slave drive as he makes it out to be. Although we didn't have our RF guns counting down and beeping at us, we still had numbers we had to hit and would be talked to if our total picks for the day were too low. As long as you had a decent pair of shoes it wasn't that bad on the feet, it was actually nice to get in so much exercise every day. I still work for the same company but am currently in a desk job, I miss being able walk around the warehouse all day haha.
  • 1 Hide
    jack1982 , December 1, 2013 10:09 AM
    He's complaining that they gave him a scanner to make his job easier? And that his supervisors keep track of his productivity in comparison to his co-workers?
  • 1 Hide
    ddpruitt , December 1, 2013 12:30 PM
    Another typical moron used to a cushy job. Any of the low end menial jobs (warehousing, sales, customer service) have similar requirements and they keep track of EVERTHING. As long as you put the effort into it most of these jobs have decent pay.

    People need to remember, if you want faster service at a cheaper price then more and more companies will do this. Unless you're willing to pay more shut-up.
  • 1 Hide
    geofry , December 1, 2013 9:42 PM
    In the UK any kind of "hard" work is considered detrimental by them. Construction work takes forever because they start around 9am and are done by 3pm (don't forget about lunch and tea time) with no weekends, buisnesses and resturants are closed alot of the time by 5pm even on the weekends and many are not open at all on Sundays. The only people you see working their tails off are the immigrants which they are very unhappy about because some are just as lazy and are soaking up the welfare, and the ones who don't are willing to work longer hours for less pay.
  • 3 Hide
    wysir , December 2, 2013 8:01 AM
    So, I'm 5'9" and my average comfortable walking speed is 2.4 MPH. I also wouldn't call myself 'in shape' either. If you take this individuals 11 miles over a 10.5 hour shift and take off said 1 hour for shift break time. its 11 miles over 9.5 hours, which equals 1.15 MPH. That is a dragging slow walking speed. Either the guy must be extremely out of shape or very lazy.
  • 0 Hide
    ioconnor , December 2, 2013 10:46 AM
    I don't have any sympathy for these workers. Perhaps they should only work two hours a day. Or maybe they should have a large pool of workers waiting in a play room where when their name gets called they can go work until they are tired. These UK workers sound like they are as fat and lazy as the typical overweight american...