Amazon workers forced to sleep in tents, reports claim

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Amazon faces accusations of fostering "intolerable working conditions" at a Scottish warehouse, following reports that some workers are camped in tents outside depots in order to save money commuting.

The complaints originated from Amazon's fulfilment centre in Dunfermline, Fife, where activists have also claimed that staff can work up to 60 hours per week for very little money.

Speaking to The Courier, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie claimed that the situation is caused by the company charging employees for transportation. "The fares the company charge for transport swallow up a lot of the weekly wage," he said, "which is forcing people to seek ever more desperate ways of making work pay."

An Amazon spokeswoman said all warehouse workers are on a starting wage of 7.35 an hour or more, and at least 11 an hour for overtime; the wage goes up to 8.15 an hour or more after two years.

"It confirms that Amazon have created intolerable working conditions for many," Rennie told the Guardian. "The company don't seem to be interested in keeping workers for too long as they work them until they drop. They have generated an oppressive culture where management and some workers put undue pressure on workers."

A Sunday Times investigation also found that employees were punished for taking sick days, and that water was regularly unavailable despite some staff having to walk up to 10 miles a day while on the job.

Amazon's spokeswoman told IT Pro: "Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace with competitive pay and benefits from day one. We are proud to have been able to create several thousand new permanent roles in our UK fulfilment centres over the last five years. One of the reasons we've been able to attract so many people to join us is that we offer great jobs and a positive work environment with opportunities for growth."

Adding that the safety and wellbeing of its "permanent and temporary associates" comes first, the spokeswoman said all workers get health and safety training, and that the company monitors its procedures to improve healthy and safety on its sites.

The spokeswoman said warehouse jobs cover a range of activities, saying: "Some roles involve walking a number of miles each day, a fact we make clear during the recruitment process. Many associates seek these positions as they enjoy the active nature of the work. There are many opportunities for people who prefer less active roles."

She said productivity targets are based on previous workforce performance levels, but that it is measured over a long period of time. "We support people who are not performing to the levels expected with dedicated coaching to help them improve," the spokeswoman added.

The company has previously come under fire for allegedly similar treatment of its delivery drivers, who were reportedly under such strict time pressures that they were forced to urinate in bottles and speed on the motorway.

Workers' groups have also raised concerns about the impact Amazon's increasing push towards automation - such as its cashierless Amazon Go store - will have on unskilled jobs.

This article was originally published at 11.46 on 12 December, and was updated with comment from Amazon at 17.34 the same day.

Adam Shepherd

Adam Shepherd has been a technology journalist since 2015, covering everything from cloud storage and security, to smartphones and servers. Over the course of his career, he’s seen the spread of 5G, the growing ubiquity of wireless devices, and the start of the connected revolution. He’s also been to more trade shows and technology conferences than he cares to count.

Adam is an avid follower of the latest hardware innovations, and he is never happier than when tinkering with complex network configurations, or exploring a new Linux distro. He was also previously a co-host on the ITPro Podcast, where he was often found ranting about his love of strange gadgets, his disdain for Windows Mobile, and everything in between.

You can find Adam tweeting about enterprise technology (or more often bad jokes) @AdamShepherUK.