TUC calls on government to stand up to Amazon on workers’ rights

By agency reporter
October 13, 2020

The TUC has called on the Government to use its purchasing power to stand up to Amazon on workers’ rights. The call comes as joint TUC and GMB union research reveals that Amazon was awarded national and local government contracts with a lifetime value of up to £630 million between 2015 and 2020.

The research shows that since the start of the pandemic in 2020 alone, Amazon has been granted contracts worth over £23 million, including contracts related to test and trace valued at £8.3 million.

Today (13 October 2020) is Amazon ‘Prime Day’. Unions say this is one of the most dangerous days for Amazon workers as they are pushed to meet relentless demand caused by heavy discounts.

Reports of employment practices at Amazon describe gruelling conditions, unrealistic productivity targets, surveillance, bogus self-employment and a refusal to recognise or engage with unions unless forced.

According to GMB Union, between 2015 to 2018, ambulances were called out 600 times to 14 Amazon warehouses in Britain due to workers collapsing in unsafe, intense working conditions.

The research, undertaken by Tussell Ltd for TUC and GMB Union, shows that central government procurement accounts for the majority of contracts with the tech giant:

  • Central government agencies and departments have awarded 82 contracts to Amazon between 2015-20 with a lifetime value of over £225 million.
  • Local government has awarded only 10 contracts, but due to the Yorkshire Purchasing Organisation (YPO) contract the value is nearly £405 million.
  • Excluding the YPO, Amazon has still gained nearly £5 million in contract awards from four local authorities

The majority of these have been awarded since 2017 and are for Amazon Web Services (cloud related infrastructure and services).

A notable exception is the YPO framework agreement worth up to £400 million for the creation of a digital marketplace for the 13 local authorities that are covered by the YPO.

The TUC says the ‘long-awaited’ employment bill is a golden opportunity for UK government to clamp down on the poor working practices rife in workplaces like Amazon, and to strengthen trade unions and collective bargaining.

The union body is calling for:

  • giving unions access to workplaces
  • the banning of zero hours contracts
  • strengthening joint liability laws to protect supply chain workers’ rights
  • ending bogus self-employment

The union body says that ministers must take a lead and insist that Amazon improve working conditions for staff – many of whom have been key workers during the pandemic.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This is a key test for the government’s levelling up agenda. If ministers are serious about improving lives they must help 'level up' working conditions at places like Amazon.

"Amazon workers have played a key role during this pandemic. But many are treated like disposable labour. That is not right.

“Public contracts should not reward bad working practices. The government must use its purchasing power to ensure people are given dignity at work and a wage they can live on. And the government must get on with introducing its long-awaited employment bill. This is a golden opportunity to boost rights and pay.”

Amazon’s growth in the UK continues. The firm recently announced that it will create 7000 jobs in the UK to meet increased demand of warehouse and distribution jobs.

Trade Unions across Europe, including UK unions GMB, Usdaw and CWU have recently called on the European commission to open an investigation into Amazons ‘potentially illegal’ surveillance of workers union activities.

Mick Rix, GMB National Officer, said: “Amazon is trousering hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ hard-earned cash through public sector contracts – while paying a pittance in tax on their vast profits. It’s beyond parody.

“Meanwhile workers in Amazon warehouses are being taken away in ambulances, forced to go to the toilet using bins and bottles and are now contracting covid while packed into warehouses like sardines.

"This report is a warning to the public sector that it can no longer turn a blind eye to Amazon's exploitative practices and appalling health and safety record.

"It's time for UK government and safety regulators to either tell Amazon's management to put their house in order or send them packing."

* Read the report Challenging Amazon here

* Trades Union Congress https://www.tuc.org.uk/


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