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Australia: Amazon staff in Melbourne warehouse claim unsustainable work targets; harsh working conditions

Image result for amazon photo

Amazon recently agreed to raise wages for its US and UK staff. However, its warehouse in Melbourne, Australia, has been described as a "hellscape" with reports citing reliance on insecure casual employment arrangements, intense pressure to meet unsustainable performance targets and inadequate opportunity to effectively bargain for improved pay and working conditions. Amazon's operations in Australia are relatively new, commencing in late 2017. 

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Amazon and its labour hire agency, Adecco Group, to respond to these concerns about potential labour rights abuses in Australia.

Both companies responded and their statements are linked below.

The original media report is also linked below. 

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Company response
6 October 2018

Adecco Group's response

Author: Adecco Group

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the company to respond to claims of labour rights abuses, in particular, reliance on insecure casual employment arrangements, unsustainable pressure to meet performance targets and inadequate opportunity to effectively bargain for improved pay and working conditions.

An Adecco Group spokesperson responded:

"At the Adecco Group we strive to inspire, train and develop people to embrace the future of work and reach their full potential. We foster an open culture of mutual respect and trust in a collaborative environment, and this extends to our Associates wherever they are in the world, and in whatever role. Our commitment is also illustrated publicly through our formal policies and procedures:

  • Code of Conduct: Our Code of Conduct sets out how we maintain the highest standards of ethical conduct and ensure we meet our legal obligations, as this is central to our sustainable success. Our Compliance organization and processes are constantly reviewed and adapted to support this aim
  • The Adecco Group Human and Labour Rights guidelines: In November 2003, we became the first company in our industry to sign the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC). We acknowledge and adhere to the UN Charter of Human Rights; ILO Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights of Work; ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy and OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. We welcome feedback from across the Group, and respond swiftly to concerns.
  • The Adecco Group Position Paper on Defending Workers’ Rights: The starting point for us is that we should lead the workforce solutions industry in defending labour rights, and we are committed to improving the lives of our colleagues, candidates and associates.

In terms of the welfare and wellbeing of our Associates, we want people to be healthy, supported and able to thrive at work. We take our responsibilities seriously and will always address any concerns immediately, working collaboratively to find solutions. For example, as part of our WHS training we have a ’Safe to Say’ portal where any Associate can confidentially raise any concerns. In addition, we encourage people to share any specific information relating to the welfare of our Associates with us so that we can react quickly and constructively.

We are fully committed to responsible business conduct and will continue to take necessary measures to ensure the appropriate work environment for our Associates, including addressing any human and labour rights issues that may emerge."

Company response
29 September 2018

Amazon's response

Author: Amazon

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the company to respond to claims of labour rights abuses, in particular, reliance on insecure casual employment arrangements, unsustainable pressure to meet performance targets and inadequate opportunity to effectively bargain for improved pay and working conditions.

An Amazon spokesperson responded:

"The claims made in a recent article about Amazon operations in Australia are not an accurate portrayal of our building. The article you refer to is intentionally sensational in its reporting and is demeaning to the hard working dedicated people who work at Amazon fulfilment centres and do a great job. We investigate any incidents to find out the facts – if there is an example of the allegations happening in Australia we want to know. We were not provided any information to look into any allegations despite repeated requests for details from the journalist.

We investigate any incidents to find out the facts – if there is an example of the allegations happening in Australia we want to know. We were not provided any information to look into any allegations despite repeated requests for details from the journalist.

As a new business in Australia, less than a year old, we have a mixture of permanent and agency staff at our two fulfilment centres to enable us to move quickly, access talent and manage variations in customer demand. Ensuring the safety of associates is our number one priority.

As with nearly all companies, we expect a certain level of performance from our associates and we continue to set productivity targets objectively, based on previous performance levels achieved by our workforce. Associate performance is measured and evaluated over a long time. This is a physically demanding job and this fact is made clear when associates join so they understand the process and requirements. Our labour hire agency does not cancel shifts if associates don’t meet rates.

We encourage associates to carry a water bottle with them and most do. Water coolers are available throughout the fulfilment centre (and breakroom) and are replenished during the day. Posters are throughout the fulfilment centre reminding everyone of the importance of keeping hydrated. Amazon ensures all of its associates have easy access to toilet facilities which are just a short walk from where they are working. Associates are allowed to use the toilet whenever needed. We do not monitor toilet breaks and factor appropriate breaks such as these into daily planning."

Article
9 September 2018

In Amazon's 'hellscape', workers face insecurity and crushing targets

Author: Patrick Hatch, The Sydney Morning Herald

7 September 2018

...[A]lmost all casual employees engaged not by Amazon, but through a third-party labour hire firm Adecco.

...Combined with insecure casual employment, the workers...felt under unsustainable pressure to meet performance targets or they will lose their jobs.

"It’s a hellscape," said one of the workers....

...[C]asual workers at Amazon’s Melbourne warehouse got a starting pay rate of [AUD]$25.36 an hour.... That compares with casual rates of between $30 and $37 an hour at nearby warehouses where workers have been able to negotiate collective agreements....

...Warehouse pickers are issued with handheld electronic scanners that direct them to different aisles of the warehouse to collect products....

...As soon as one item is scanned, a solid bar on the bottom of the screen immediately starts to count down, showing how much time they have to reach their next item, which could be anywhere in the 24,000-square-metre warehouse.

If an item is not scanned within the required time, the worker’s "pick rate" is marked down. 

Workers...thought Amazon used casual employment and demanding KPIs to push workers’ productivity to the limits.

...Amazon's spokeswoman said the company had a culture based on safety and a positive working environment. A spokeswoman for Adecco said it took the health and safety of its "associates" seriously, and that their welfare was its "number one priority".

 

...[W]hile workers at Amazon's factory had the right to bargain with Adecco, they may not be able to access Amazon....

Read the full post here

Article
26 January 2018

Amazon's labour-hire deal and the impact on collective bargaining

Author: Paul Karp, Guardian

20 January 2018

...Amazon has a global contract with Adecco to supply workers...hired through the labour-hire firm.

...[T]he Fair Work Act...allows collective bargaining with the workers’ direct employer, in this case Adecco, but not the ultimate employing entity that controls their work.

...“We can’t bargain with Amazon because, technically, they don’t have any employees [within scope], so the workers are locked into low-quality low-pay work.” ...Amazon also face problems such as irregular work, shift cancellations at late notice and short shift lengths.

...Amazon ignored a request...to meet the union so there is “no strong engagement”....

A spokeswoman for Amazon says...[l]abour hire is used “to enable us to move quickly, access talent and manage variations in customer demand”.

...“Labour hire is a tactic that corporations use to organise their workforce and keep them out of the collective bargaining system....”

...Barring big changes to bargaining laws to allow direct negotiation with the ultimate employing entity, the solution in the short term will be for unions such as the NUW to organise the workforce of the labour-hire firms.

“Amazon will avoid collectively dealing with unions until the bitter end...[t]hey’re going to be difficult, but not insurmountable.”

Read the full post here