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...