I am… a former Amazon worker
Cameron Brady-Turner relives Amazon days
Mention Amazon to those who work at its warehouses, and cheap books, one-click delivery and the A-to-Z smile are unlikely to be what springs to mind. I worked for Amazon for six months in 2013. When someone mentions it to me, my mind flashes to 60-hour weeks, back-breaking efficiency targets, redundancies, illness and depression.
I came through an agency and was part of an intake of some 30 people. The induction was brisk. We toured the grey warehouse full of vast rows of packing stations, then watched a video which said that Amazon has a ‘customer obsession’ and that, while it’s your right to join a union, it’s our preference that you don’t. Then we were put to work.
Amazon’s warehouses are called fulfilment centres, with no apparent appreciation for irony. Your shift is a 10½-hour day with two 15-minute breaks and one half-hour break. The rest of the day, you stand at your workstation and pack. Every stage of the process has been optimised, cutting no slack, sparing zero downtime. Sitting is prohibited unless you have a medical complaint. You have no reason to leave your workstation. The rhythm of this work is relentless, and your mission is singular. You pack. Anything else, and you can pack it in.
Back then, Amazon gathered information on virtually everything its workers did — from their pack rate to downtime — then pits workers against each other on the basis of these metrics. In my area, the target was nominally 104 packages an hour. In truth, it was more like 120 an hour, as my agency would consistently record a lower average for me than the real-time packing rate I raced against on my monitor. After a month in the job, I figured out what was bringing my numbers down: logging out for a paid break left our pack rates still recording. We felt we were basically being made to work extra hard to ‘make up’ for our statutory right to a rest…
Cameron Brady-Turner is Senior Parliamentary Assistant to a Member of Parliament
This is an extract from an article published in the June 2021 edition of Reform