Panorama investigates Amazon working conditions

Conditions at a UK-based Amazon warehouse could cause “mental and physical illness”, a stress expert has told BBC's Panorama, for an investigation to be broadcast tonight (Monday 25th November).

Professor Michael Marmot made the judgment after being shown secret filming by the TV current affairs documentary programme of night shifts at the company’s Swansea warehouse.

Amazon has defended itself, saying the safety of its workers is its “number one priority” and that no concerns had been raised during official safety inspections.

Undercover reporter Adam Littler took a job as a picker at the warehouse, with a shift that involved up to 11 miles of walking, during which he was expected to collect orders every 33 seconds. The 23-year-old took a hidden camera for Panorama inside the warehouse during his job, which involved collecting orders from 800,000 square foot of storage.

Littler told the BBC that a handset told him what to collect, and that if he did not pick up the product in the allotted time the scanner beeped. 

He said: "We are machines, we are robots, we plug our scanner in, we're holding it, but we might as well be plugging it into ourselves.  "We don't think for ourselves, maybe they don't trust us to think for ourselves as human beings, I don't know."

Professor Marmot, one of Britain's leading experts on stress at work, said the working conditions at the warehouse are "all the bad stuff at once". He told Panorama: "The characteristics of this type of job, the evidence shows increased risk of mental illness and physical illness."
"There are always going to be menial jobs, but we can make them better or worse. And it seems to me the demands of efficiency at the cost of individual's health and wellbeing - it's got to be balanced."

The programme shows Littler’s picking rate being tracked by a scanner, which sent his performance to managers.

The undercover reporter was paid £6.50 an hour during the day, and £8.25 per hour for a night shift. Workers on a night shift have a four-day week, with an hour’s break per shift.

Amazon told the BBC that an independent expert appointed by the company advised that the picking job is "similar to jobs in many other industries and does not increase the risk of mental and physical illness".

The company has also countered allegations that its 10 and a half hour night shifts could be unlawful, saying it sought expert advice to ensure the shifts "comply with all relevant legal requirements".

Panorama: The Truth Behind the Click is on BBC One tonight at 8.30pm.