Amazon’s UK profits hit £20bn in pandemic on back of ‘slave labour’

Amazon UK profited £20 billion during the coronavirus pandemic, however agency workers have said the rise in sales was "on the back of slave labour."

Sales rose by 51% as the country went into on and off lockdowns but workers were reportedly struggling on zero hour contracts.

In an investigation carried out by The Mirror with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and ITV News, it has been discovered workers were also faced with unpaid wages and shifts dropped at the last minute.

The investigation also found the online giant broke its own rules around zero hour contracts.

Amazon used 25,000 seasonal workers in 2020 however it did not fulfil its own pledges and agency workers were left dealing with a number of problems.

It claims not to use zero-hour contracts and that all its warehouse workers, including those employed through agencies, should be paid for at least 20 hours’ work a week, “even when 20 hours of work is not available”.

But we found agency workers on the equivalent of zero-hour contracts getting far fewer than the promised 20 hours. They told of shifts cancelled in the middle of the night, and being “ghosted” – never hearing from agencies again.

The Adecco and PMP Recruitment agencies asked them to sign contracts with no minimum hours or salary.

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Law student Olivia Hall, 20, worked at Amazon in Doncaster, South Yorks, via the Adecco and PMP Recruitment agencies between May and October 2020.

After being told she would work five shifts a week, she got just two or three.

She said: “New starters seemed to get five shifts for a few weeks, then it drops off.”

The job was a 90-minute bus journey away and early starts often meant taking a £12 taxi to work.

She said: “Then you wouldn’t get paid because they didn’t need you.”

Olivia left the job after catching Covid and having to self-isolate.

She said: “They still owed me some pay, about £300. It only got sorted because me and my mum made a fuss on Twitter.”

Andras Podor, 40, started work at Amazon’s warehouse in Bournemouth, Dorset, in October, employed via PMP.

He said: “A friend told me it was a nightmare, but I needed a job.”

Andras worked the 2.30am to 10am shift, but would often get a text between 6pm and 10pm, cancelling his shift.

He said: “The first week I did overtime so got £560. The second week it was £380 or £400. In the third week, I did three days. After tax, I had £250.

“Another time it was just one shift. I didn’t have enough money, family members had to help me.

“I don’t support anyone, but two of my friends there are mothers. They must feed their kids, they can’t live on money that is always changing.”

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He was doing up to 25,000 steps in eight hours, but said: “Some people do 35,000 – I must run to do this. The system is like everybody must be a robot. They want slaves, not workers.”

Amazon said: “Amazon created 10,000 new permanent roles across the UK in 2020, including for many people whose jobs were impacted by the pandemic, bringing the total workforce to 40,000 people. Additionally, a further 20,000 seasonal positions were created for the festive period at sites across the country.

“Our agency terms are explicit that Amazon does not engage individuals on zero hour contracts. Associates on temporary assignments at Amazon, who are employed by agencies, work a range of shifts from full-time to part-time, however in the majority of cases a 40-hour week is offered.

“Many who join us on temporary assignments do remain with us and take permanent positions but, at the same time, we do have to say goodbye to some. We thank them for their hard work and dedication and encourage them to stay in contact for future opportunities.”

PMP said: “In this specific case, our colleagues are not employed under zero-hour contracts and are provided with a guaranteed minimum number of shifts per week.”

Adecco said: “Adecco offers its employees a range of work opportunities from up to 40 hours per week, part time or flexible shifts.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Amazon workers have played a key role during this pandemic. But many are treated like disposable labour while the company registers enormous profits off the back of their hard work. That’s not right.”

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