Hard pressed workers at Amazon have resorted to sleeping in tents close to the company’s fulfilment centre in Fife, The Courier can reveal.
At least three tents have been spotted in woodland beside the online retail giant’s base just off the M90 in Dunfermline in recent days, sparking concerns about the depths some employees are apparently plumbing to hold down a job.
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The company came under fire last month from local activists who claimed that agency workers are working up to 60 hours per week for little more than the minimum wage and are harshly treated.
Amazon dismissed those allegations and said it values its employees, maintaining a “culture of direct dialogue” with them.
However, the news that some of its staff have taken to roughing it on bitterly cold winter nights has prompted renewed questions about employee welfare.
One worker, who did not wish to be named, was reluctant to speak to The Courier but did describe the firm as a “poor employer” and criticised working practices at the Fife site.
He added that he had opted to stay in a tent as it was easier and cheaper than commuting from his home in Perth, although his camping equipment had disappeared by Friday afternoon.
Another tent appears to have been abandoned, with rubbish, discarded sleeping bags and cans of cider among the items strewn around nearby.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie MSP, who has repeatedly called for the firm to improve its working conditions and its tax record, once more criticised Amazon after learning that some workers had apparently taken to staying in the woods.
“Amazon should be ashamed that they pay their workers so little that they have to camp out in the dead of winter to make ends meet,” he told The Courier.
“Amazon need to take a long, hard look at themselves and change their ways.
“They pay a small amount of tax and received millions of the pounds from the SNP Government so the least they should do is pay the proper living wage.
“The fares the company charge for transport swallow up a lot of the weekly wage which is forcing people to seek ever more desperate ways of making work pay.“
Earlier this year, Mr Rennie demanded that the multinational receive no more public cash until they could guarantee higher wages for workers, amid suggestions that some staff were paid well below the current living wage of £8.45 an hour.
Amazon employs around 1,500 staff on a permanent basis at its Dunfermline fulfilment centre but has created 4,000 seasonal jobs to help cover the busy Christmas and New Year period.
A spokesperson for Amazon said: “Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace.
“The safety and wellbeing of our permanent and temporary associates is our number one priority.
“We are also proud to have been able to create several thousand new permanent roles in our UK fulfilment centres over the last five years.
“We pay competitive wages — all permanent and temporary Amazon associates start on £7.35 an hour or above regardless of age and £11 an hour and above for overtime.”
“It’s about keeping associates safe and having fun” — Amazon boss disappointed by negative headlines
While many of us will hope to fulfil Christmas wishes with the click of a mouse over the coming weeks, spare a thought for the hard-working souls working flat out to make those dreams come true.
Amazon’s Dunfermline fulfilment centre is a busy place all year round, but to say it is a hive of activity at the moment would be something of an understatement.
Hundreds of workers are negotiating the Fife facility, which is Amazon’s largest fulfilment centre at around the size of 14 football pitches, on a daily basis, and that will continue apace as the big day looms ever larger.
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Criticism continues from some quarters about working practices, but Amazon general manager Paul Ashraf insists that the company cares about its staff — and is disappointed by the perception some people have of the business.
“I think from my point of view we’re a global brand, so that brings headlines in relation to what people think about Amazon and this place,” he told The Courier.
“From my point of view I try to focus on what’s within my control. I focus very heavily, especially in peak times, on associate experience.
“We know it’s a very intense time for them, as it’s a month of hard work for everybody, but we’ve got to make sure that it’s safe for them and that they have fun along the way.
“That’s the key priorities.
“It’s hard work at this time of year, of course it is.”
Turning his attention to the recent Black Friday, Mr Ashraf said: “We know it’s our busiest day of the year, which it was again this year, and we basically plan everything to make sure that it goes as smoothly as possible.
“Black Friday went very, very smoothly and Cyber Monday went very, very smoothly as well.
“We just focus on customer obsession, making sure we deliver the customer promises.
“Whatever we’ve promised a customer in terms of what’s going to be delivered, we make sure that it is processed and shipped on time.
“While we’re doing that, we make sure we keep people here safe, so it’s all about safety first, and make sure that from an associate experience point of view we try and have as much fun as possible.
“We had DJs on every floor on Black Friday, we had tombolas, we had raffles that people get free entry into — it’s all about keeping associates safe and having fun.”
However, not everyone sees it that way.
Fife People’s Assembly and the Fife Trades Union Council staged a demonstration on Black Friday to protest against alleged exploitation of workers, and have embarked on a campaign to highlight the issue.
“Amazon has it within its power to create a truly first class working environment, but this is always negated by the drive for bigger and better profits at all costs,” a spokesman said.
“It is always at the expense of the workers who are treated no better than drones.”