Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, may be the world’s richest person, with a net worth of about $112 billion. But workers in his warehouses are so desperate to keep their jobs that they don’t even take time to use a restroom, but pee in bottles instead.
The UK Times Union reports that author James Bloodworth went undercover at an Amazon warehouse in Staffordshire, UK, for a book on low wages in Britain. He found that the warehouse’s fulfillment workers, who run around Amazon’s cavernous warehouses gathering products for delivery, had a “toilet bottle” system in place because the bathrooms were too few and too far away to get to quickly. Bloodworth told The Sun:
“For those of us who worked on the top floor, the closest toilets were down four flights of stairs. People just peed in bottles because they lived in fear of being disciplined over ‘idle time’ and losing their jobs just because they needed the loo.”
Bloodworth’s contention is consistent with a separate survey of 241 Amazon warehouse employees in England, which was released April 16, 2018. Almost three-quarters of UK fulfillment-center staff members were afraid of using the toilet because of time concerns.
The survey anonymously quoted one person as saying targets had “increased dramatically” and “I do not drink water because I do not have time to go to the toilet.” Another said: “The target grows every year. I do not have two more legs yet to make the 100% to pick, where you actually need to run and go to the toilet just during the break. Packing 120 products per hour are terribly heavy. You have to pack two products per minute. You do not have time to drink water because you go to the toilet after every evening sends messages to the scanner with the target and tells you to hurry.”
Some workers who reported feeling sick, even through pregnancy, said they were penalized for missing work or taking breaks. One employee said she was ill while pregnant and was given a warning. Another said: “I turned up for my shift even though I felt like shit, managed 2 hours then I just could not do anymore. Told my supervisor and was signed off sick, I had a gastric bug (sickness and diarrhea, very bad) saw my doc. Got a sick note with an explanation, but still got a strike.”
Amazon is known to track how fast its warehouse workers can pick and package items from its shelves, imposing strictly timed breaks and targets. It issues warning points for those who don’t meet its goals or who take extended breaks.
But the company denies the survey findings and Bloodworth’s allegations. Amazon says it does not time toilet breaks and that its performance targets are based on previous worker performance. In a statement to Business Insider, the company says:
“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. 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 7th most sought-after place to work in the UK and ranked first place in the US. Amazon also offers public tours of its fulfillment centers so customers can see first-hand what happens after they click ‘buy’ on Amazon.”
The company insists it uses “proper discretion” when it comes to sick leave and absences from work, and that it provides coaching to help people improve, on-site occupational health and physiotherapy support, as well as legal, financial and workplace guidance.
Image via The Seattle Times