For Workers' Rights at Amazon

28th September 2013

If you drive in to Swansea from the East you can’t fail to notice the vast Amazon warehouse on the approach to the city. Its location next to the site of the former Linamar/Visteon/Fords plant is a graphic illustration of how casualised work at poverty wages is replacing unionised, skilled manufacturing in the city and the surrounding area.

The local press has been hailing the announcement by Amazon this week that they will be taking on an extra 1,500 workers in the run-up to Christmas. Talking to somebody who was an agency worker at Amazon over Christmas last year gives an indication of what they have to look forward to.

“At the end of the first day’s tour of the warehouse, the guide pointed out “your rep’s office”. One of the new workers asked if they meant union rep but was told that it was the agency rep’s office and they didn’t have unions. Don’t think the person asking the question lasted long!”

“The first wage packet was a lot smaller than anybody expected, with compulsory deductions for a locker deposit (although I wasn’t assigned a locker as there weren’t enough), CRB check and drugs test.”

“Despite supposedly being employed for 25 hours a week plus overtime, workers were frequently sent home with no pay if there wasn’t enough work that day. Sometimes those being sent home would have earned less in the hours worked than their bus fares or petrol to get to the warehouse, which was on the outskirts of the city. “

“On some days agency workers were sent home while work was given to unpaid job seekers on the workfare scheme.” 

Amazon pays next to no tax in the UK but is at liberty to take advantage of Government schemes that provide free labour. It would be interesting to know as well what Welsh Government or council incentives were given to Amazon to entice them to bring their super-exploitation to Swansea.

“It is not easy to get to the site by public transport, especially with the disruption of the Christmas period but anybody turning up late would be assigned penalty points. These were accumulated and could and did lead to dismissals. Other ‘offences’ attracting disciplinary points included ‘errors’, like not putting the right amount of brown paper in a box or forgetting to put in the advertisements. All absences (all unpaid of course) were treated the same regardless of the reason, even certificated sickness or attending a job interview.”

“The site had a reel gulag feel. Everybody was subject to security scans whenever they left the floor and there were random scans while working, with a handheld scanner, CCTV cameras are everywhere and you’re told that you can face a drug or alcohol test at any time, have your locker searched or your drinking water tested.”

“Everybody was fearful when scanning their security card to gain entry to the site; finding your card had been deactivated was a common way of discovering you had been dismissed. This happened to people on Christmas Eve. Others were dismissed and escorted off the floor part way through a shift.”

Unionisation of sites like Amazon in Swansea is essential to halt the race to the bottom on workers’ rights. This won’t be easy; it will require determination and a serious commitment to fighting policies on the part of any union aspiring to do it. Firms like Amazon have had their own way for too long but the determination of the BFAWU members at Hovis shows how militant trade unionism is the only way to beat casualisation.
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