"Exhausted" staff at Amazon are being taken away in ambulances and falling asleep on their feet due to intense pressure to meet warehouse targets, an investigation by the Mirror has claimed.
Alan Selby, an undercover reporter for the newspaper, spent five weeks in the online retailer's newest warehouse in Tilbury, Essex. At the size of 11 football pitches, the fulfilment centre is the biggest in Europe, and is due to ship 1.2 million items this year.
According to the newspaper, workers prepare 120 items for shipping every hour – rumoured to be increasing to 200 – or 85 multiple items. Staff are paid £8.20 an hour - less than the living wage set by the Living Wage Foundation which recommends £8.75 an hour, but higher than the government's minimum wage requirement of £7.50 for people aged 25 and over.
The reporter said that warehouse workers faced "intolerable" working conditions with timed toilet breaks and difficult targets, with some employees so exhausted from working 55-hour weeks that they would "sleep on their feet".
He said: "Those who could not keep up with the punishing targets faced the sack – and some who buckled under the strain had to be attended by ambulance crews."
One colleague said: “Why are we not allowed to sit when it is quiet and not busy? We are human beings, not slaves and animals.”
The warehouse has no natural light so staff cannot see whether it is day or night outside. The undercover reporter worked from 7.30am to 6pm with two half-hour breaks.
One colleague is said to have collapsed as they worked and was taken to hospital by ambulance. Another was seen by paramedics after suffering a panic attack when she learned compulsory overtime meant she would have to work up to 55 hours a week over Christmas.
One colleague told the reporter: “Everybody suffers here. I pulled my hamstring but I just had to carry on. My friend spent two days off after she damaged her knee ligaments.”
A spokesperson for Amazon said in response: "Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace with competitive pay and benefits. We are proud to have created thousands of roles in our UK fulfilment centres. As with most companies, we expect a certain level of performance. Targets are based on previous performance achieved by our workers. Associates are evaluated over a long period of time."
Last year Amazon announced that it would open fulfilment centres in Tilbury, Daventry, Doncaster, and Warrington in 2017, creating more than 3,500 new permanent full time jobs. The Daventry site opened in February while Doncaster, Warrington and Tilbury have recently begun their operations. The company currently has 13 fulfilment sites in the UK. The company is set to open new fulfilment centres in Bolton and Bristol in 2018, meanwhile.
In 2015, the New York Times published an in-depth expose on the working culture and practices at the online giant after interviewing more 100 current and former employees.
Its findings were damning, particularly in its treatment of workers who have suffered personal crises in their lives. An example was given of one woman with breast cancer who was put on ‘performance improvement plans’ and another who had just had a stillborn child treated the same way. It also described workers being regularly reduced to tears at their desks and practices which encourage employees to turn on each other, such as an internal tool to give ‘secret’ feedback on colleagues’ work to their bosses.
However, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said the article did not describe “the Amazon I know” and he encouraged those who have experienced maltreatment to contact HR or contact him directly.
The retailer made £7.3bn of sales in the UK last year and employs 24,000 people.