Retail

“Simply misguided”: Amazon Australia hits back at warehouse “hellscape” claims by under-pressure workers

Dominic Powell /

Amazon

Source: AAP/Joe Castro.

Amazon Australia has hit back at what it describes as an “intentionally sensational” report that reported on the allegedly harsh working conditions experienced some of the company’s local warehouse workers, calling the allegations “simply misguided”.

Last Friday, Fairfax published an investigation into the hiring practices of Amazon Australia and the working conditions of a number of labour-hire employees at the company’s Dandenong fulfilment centre.

The workers branded the site a “hellscape”, revealing concerning allegations of high-pressure KPIs and unstable work, with one worker claiming people would just “disappear” if they failed to hit Amazon’s desired pick rates.

“You end up not being able to function because you’re so nervous and stressed out,” one worker said.

However, the retail giant has hit back at what it says are “sensational” claims.

In a statement provided to SmartCompany, a spokesperson for Amazon Australia called Fairfax’s article “intentionally sensational” and “demeaning to the hard working dedicated people who work at Amazon fulfilment centres”.

“As a new business in Australia (less than a year old) we have a mixture of permanent and agency staff at our two fulfilment centres to enable us to move quickly, access talent and manage variations in customer demand. Ensuring the safety of associates is our number one priority,” the spokesperson said.

“We investigate any incidents to find out the facts — if there is an example of the allegations happening in Australia we want to know.”

The company also responded to individual claims in the article, including one about the workplaces being “cult-like”. According to Fairfax, Amazon workers at the company’s local warehouses start the day by sharing an “Amazon success story”, group stretches, and a team chant of phrases such as “Success!” or “Amazon!”.

“This is simply misguided. Stretching, sharing a safety tip and going through the priorities of the day is normal in many workplaces and to imply it’s unique to Amazon or to describe it as ‘cult-like’ is sensational, click-bait reporting,” the spokesperson said.

KPI pressure “not correct”

Additionally, the company said claims about workers having their shifts cancelled when they were unable to hit the required KPIs were “not correct”, and claimed the labour-hire agency used by Amazon “does not cancel shifts if associates don’t meet rates”.

“As with nearly all companies, we expect a certain level of performance from our associates and we continue to set productivity targets objectively, based on previous performance levels achieved by our workforce. Associate performance is measured and evaluated over a long time,” the spokesperson said.

“This is a physically demanding job and this fact is made clear when associates join so they understand the process and requirements.”

Finally, Amazon Australia also dismissed claims from workers who said they are unable to take mid-shift toilet breaks or water breaks because doing so may affecting their pick-rates. The Amazon Australia spokesperson said the company encourages workers or ‘associates’ to carry a water bottle with them, “and most do”.

“Amazon ensures all of its associates have easy access to toilet facilities which are just a short walk from where they are working. Associates are allowed to use the toilet whenever needed. We do not monitor toilet breaks and factor appropriate breaks such as these into daily planning,” the spokesperson said.

“Water coolers are available throughout the fulfilment centre (and break room) and are replenished during the day. There are posters throughout the fulfilment centre reminding everyone of the importance of keeping hydrated.”

Speaking to SmartCompany earlier this week, partner at Patron Legal Shane Wescott said large companies are increasingly turning to labour-hire arrangements as an employment solution, in some cases to subvert their unfair dismissal obligations to workers.

“A lot of employers use these types of arrangements to subvert unfair dismissal laws, as a lot of the time the host, or Amazon in this situation, will say to the labour-hire company ‘we don’t want this person anymore’. Then the labour-hire company will convey that to the employee,” he says.

“And if the employee thinks they’ve been unfairly dismissed, Amazon isn’t the one who dismissed them, and the labour-hire company hasn’t actually dismissed them as they’ll often find them work somewhere else, which prevents the employee taking a claim in relation to an unfair dismissal.”

NOW READ: “They just don’t care”: This small business says Amazon Australia promised to help it with sales, then went silent

NOW READ: Amazon Australia posts $9 million loss for 2017, as SMEs remain “sceptical” of the retailer’s longevity in Australia

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the features and profiles editor at SmartCompany.

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