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Hazards, number 154, 2021
SELLING LIES | Exploitation is part and parcel of the Amazon business model
Amazon’s attempt to sell itself as a caring employer has taken some real creativity. Its latest anything-but-unions stunt is installing ‘wellness chambers’ in Amazon warehouses so that stressed workers can sit inside and watch videos about relaxation.


In a video posted on its Twitter account, Amazon said the ‘AmaZen’ chambers would help staff focus on their mental health. But Amazon deleted the post after a wave of ridicule from other social media users.

The US retail giant has been repeatedly criticised over working conditions in its facilities, with unions in the UK accusing Amazon of high accident rates and workplace welfare and safety abuses. The company announced its WorkingWell scheme on 17 May 2021, saying it will focus on giving staff “physical and mental activities, wellness exercises, and healthy eating support.” The scheme includes ‘work huddles’ where workers can mime ‘safe’ lifting techniques.

Describing the AmaZen booths, the company said: “During shifts employees can visit AmaZen stations and watch short videos featuring easy-to-follow wellbeing activities, including guided meditations, positive affirmations, calming scenes with sounds.” Techy news site Motherboard had a different take, calling the chamber a “coffin-sized booth in the middle of an Amazon warehouse.” Some viewers were quick to re-upload the video to other accounts, describing a “crying booth” or a “dystopian” work practice.

While Amazon will let its workers talk to a box, it won’t let them have a union voice. It has faced public criticism for union busting at a plant in Bessemer in the US, strikes in Germany, Italy and France and a global campaign for safe, decent work.

Commenting on 21 June - Amazon Prime Day - global union UNI said: “Trade unionists have been saying it all along. With its unrealistic and body-breaking productivity goals, and intrusive employee surveillance, Amazon treats workers as disposable items. Now we know that Amazon’s staggeringly high worker turnover is not a flaw of the system - it’s the system.”

UNI added: “The richest man in the world has built a corporate empire on the backs of workers he thinks ‘are inherently lazy.’ The Amazon system is, by design, chewing workers in and spitting them out at a pace unparalleled in modern history.”

In June, Unite published the results of a poll of 2,000 UK residents that found more than threequarters of respondents (76 per cent) believe Amazon workers should be able to join a trade union without interference from the company.



FURIOUS  A GMB analysis of ambulance call outs to Amazon warehouses has revealed injuries spike just before Prime Day, Black Friday and Christmas. Mick Rix, GMB national officer, said: “We know Amazon fulfilment centres are dangerous, stressful places to work at the best of times. In the run up to key sales events like Prime Day the inhumanity of working conditions at Amazon warehouses goes into overdrive. Workers are expected to operate like robots gone haywire, picking and packing at a furious rate to meet completely unrealistic targets.”


PRIME TIME  A confidential Unite whistleblowing hotline lets Amazon workers “blow the whistle and expose poor treatment free from reprisals.” Unite executive officer Sharon Graham said the initiative is part of its Action on Amazon coalition, and “is calling on Jeff Bezos to back a declaration which guarantees that Amazon workers have the freedom to talk with and form a union without fear. Our union is campaigning up and down the country. We are determined to win trade union rights for Amazon workers.” www.actiononamazon.org


NO PROBLEM? Amazon has finally admitted it has a workplace safety problem after introducing new safety technology to one of its warehouses. A site in Yorkshire has been chosen by the online giant to trial technology in its UK operations which it says will support safer ways of working - including automated guided vehicles and robot sorters. GMB’s Mick Rix said: “Imposing new technology from above isn’t enough. If Amazon is serious about addressing its health and safety problems then it should recognise an independent workers’ voice and get round the table with GMB Union to agree safer ways of working.” www.gmb.org.uk/amazon



PEE LEAK  Amazon has apologised to US Democrat politician Mark Pocan for falsely denying its drivers have been forced to urinate in plastic bottles. “We owe an apology to Representative Pocan,” Amazon said in an April 2021 statement. “The tweet was incorrect. It did not contemplate our large driver population and instead wrongly focused only on our fulfilment centres.” The company had to come clean after a leaked May 2020 internal Amazon memo revealed it had been aware of the problem for at least a year.



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Amazon’s attempt to sell itself as a caring employer has taken some real creativity. Its latest anything-but-unions stunt is installing ‘wellness chambers’ in Amazon warehouses so that stressed workers can sit inside and watch videos about relaxation.


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