Forced to work overtime

Amazon warehouse workers fear for their health as they're forced into compulsory overtime

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While a substantial number of workers across industries are faced with the prospect of lay offs or a reduction in working hours amid the coronavirus epidemic, others are working flat out to keep up with rising demand for, for example, online deliveries.



Warehouse workers for online retail giant Amazon have reported that they’re being forced into working compulsory overtime, despite government guidelines urging the restriction of social contact.



Workers at at least four different sites in the UK have been told they must work overtime from Monday after already being under massive pressure to keep up with processing demand for goods like nappies, hand wash and large boxes of rice.



One Amazon worker at the Dunfermline warehouse in Scotland, told the BBC that staff in the ‘inbound goods’ department had all been told to work compulsory overtime for at least the next two weeks if not longer.



The worker said such situations were ‘very rare’ outside the Christmas period and during Prime Week, a seven-day period when Amazon gives members discounts on its items.



Compulsory overtime is often a stipulation in many workers’ contracts, and some are also required as a condition of employment to opt out of Working Time Regulations — where overtime is limited to 48 hours per week averaged out over 17 weeks.



In France, despite being in lockdown, online deliveries are still permitted, which allows Amazon to stay open. But Amazon workers at a warehouse in Orleans, who took strike action calling for the warehouse’s closure on Wednesday (March 18), have highlighted that fewer than 1 per cent of Amazon’s stock there are groceries and other essential items and are angry that they’re still being asked to work. The union there estimated that 30 to 40 per cent of Amazon workers in France had stopped going to work out of fear of spreading and catching coronavirus.



In America, Amazon workers have also reported unsafe working conditions, with long hours impacting on workers mental and physical health. While they have been given unlimited time off if they become ill, any days taken off unless they are confirmed to have coronavirus will be unpaid.



“There are people coughing in here. There aren’t paper masks. We are getting unlimited unpaid time off, but I still need to pay bills and rent. I can’t take that unpaid time off,” one Amazon worker in America told the Guardian.



On Wednesday (March 18), an Amazon warehouse in New York reported its first confirmed case of coronavirus, sparking fears of a rapid spread of the virus in warehouses where many workers work in close proximity.



Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner warned that while workers will rightly want to play their part in times of great public need, employers must ensure this does not come at the expense of their safety.


“Reports that workers are being forced to work compulsory overtime in Amazon warehouses in the UK are very worrying,” he said. “Already workers on low pay are struggling with personal finances and many will choose to work even when sick rather than face growing rent arrears, the threat of eviction and a daily struggle to feed families on £94.25 a week statutory sick pay (SSP). In addition, workers’ health will be compromised further if they’re exhausted and their immune systems are low, making them even more vulnerable to the coronavirus and other illnesses.



“While we demand government do more to put real wages in people’s pockets and lift SSP to actual earnings during these unprecedented times, we also warn businesses that they must not flout agreements, working time regulations or any employment legislation for short term gain at the risk of deepening an already very worrying national crisis.”


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