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Amazon warehouse workers skip bathroom breaks to keep their jobs, says report

Amazon warehouse workers skip bathroom breaks to keep their jobs, says report


In the UK, an undercover reporter and a labor survey exposed harrowing work conditions

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Amazon warehouse workers are forced to pee in bottles or forego their bathroom breaks entirely because fulfillment demands are too high, according to journalist James Bloodworth, who went undercover as an Amazon worker for his book, Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain. Targets have reportedly increased exponentially, workers say in a new survey revealed over the weekend, and as result, they feel pressured and stressed to meet the new goals.

Workers who pick up products for delivery at a warehouse in Staffordshire, UK use bottles instead of the actual toilet, which is located too far away, Bloodworth reported. They are afraid of being disciplined for idling and losing their jobs as a result, he added. Bloodworth told The Sun in an interview that the warehouse resembled a prison or an airport, with high security scanners that check workers for banned items like hoodies, sunglasses, and phones, and other employees who pat down workers to check for stolen goods.

55 percent of workers report having suffered depression since working at Amazon

Bloodworth’s findings are in line with first-hand accounts collected in the survey by worker rights platform Organise, which reported that 74 percent of workers avoid using the toilet for fear of being warned they had missed their target numbers. Rising goals have also taken a toll on employees’ mental health, as 55 percent of them report having suffered depression since working at Amazon. Over 80 percent of workers said they would not apply for a job at Amazon again.

Amazon apparently doesn’t allow employees enough time for breaks, let alone sick days, and that also includes individuals who may be pregnant. “From their point of view, we don’t have the right to be ill,” one worker who is a parent wrote anonymously in the Organise survey. Another worker said that although they had presented a sick note for being ill, their supervisor still called a meeting to discuss their conduct. An anonymous source close to the situation told The Verge that Amazon didn’t monitor toilet breaks and that it offered private medical insurance to its employees.

“I had a fit at work. It was still marked, ‘no call, no show.’”

“I had a fit at work and was taken to the hospital. The next day, someone rung me and asked why I was not in work. I explained to them, but it was still marked, ‘no call, no show,’” wrote another employee from a different warehouse in the UK.

Workers described the breaks as one 30-minute, unpaid break, and two 15-minute paid breaks, which is a similar structure to what many US state labor laws require regarding break times. But despite having legally compliant break times, workers noted they had to walk quite a distance from their main work area to the break area, which greatly diminished how much time they had left to rest.

Amazon said in a statement to The Verge, “Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace for thousands of people across the UK with competitive pay and benefits from day one. We have not been provided with confirmation that the people who completed the survey worked at Amazon and we don’t recognize these allegations as an accurate portrayal of activities in our buildings.”

The company continued by saying, “We have a focus on ensuring we provide a great environment for all our employees and last month Amazon was named by LinkedIn as the [seventh] most sought after place to work in the UK and ranked first place in the US. Amazon also offers public tours of its fulfillment centres so customers can see first-hand what happens after they click ‘buy’ on Amazon.”