We have five (ironically christened) "fulfilment centres" in the region, Dunstable, Hemel Hempstead, Milton Keynes, Cambridge and Tilbury.
It is common knowledge, of course, that life is pretty tough in these places.
What is perhaps less well known is quite how tough.
As of June last year, there has been a draconian tightening of policies around sickness and absence, bearing down on those who have been worn down by Amazon's relentless pursuit of incredibly high targets.
We have found ourselves defending members accused of misconduct under Disciplinary policy for literally arriving three minutes late on shift.
Any issues of lateness or absence are now dealt with as disciplinary matters, rather than being dealt with under attendance policies. More and more people are being accused of gross misconduct, especially if they have been "caught" trying to improve their picking figures. These accusations are then framed in terms of "dishonesty", which gives Amazon the opportunity to level accusations of gross misconduct, thus allowing for summary dismissals. There is a concerted effort going on to reduce staff numbers as much as possible across all three sites. And with the changes brought in to beef up the policies around absence having the effect of punishing employees for absences going back six months, and frequently, (in my experience ) even further back into the past.
At the same time, Amazon have taken steps to eradicate as many as possible of the "reasonable adjustments" which they have reluctantly been pushed by ourselves into conceding to its employees. It is a constant battle to persuade them to honour their legal obligations, and to treat their staff with dignity and respect.
The most insidious facets of the Amazon "target culture" are these;
1) Targets are not necessarily advised to staff before they start work at the start of any given shift or week, in terms of exactly what is expected of them. They are merely given a percentage performance target. No prizes for guessing the percentage 100.
2) The targets are set retrospectively, - sometimes a month or more after the work has been done. When I have questioned the methodology of how these targets are actually calculated, I have been told, (and I quote directly from a senior manager ) "...er.. I am not really sure, - it all comes in an algorithm from California".
3) The targets are constantly being upgraded, irrespective of the reality of the performance achieved, and this is part of the relentless ratcheting up of physical and psychological pressure on its employees. The way it works is almost genius in its cruelty and insanity; Whatever the objective reality of how hard The unfortunate "Amazon associates" have worked, there is always a split between the top percentage of performers, and those in the bottom percentage, (which varies). Those at the bottom, whose performance is then deemed as "unacceptable" (simply because they are in the lowest percentage of performers) are then threatened with a "performance improvement plan", which will then inevitably lead to disciplinary action. The genius of the idea is that, working blindly, people are forced to work ever harder, just to try to stay ahead of the pack, because those at the bottom, (and of course, also the top), are constantly in fear of being "released". Note; Amazon workers are not sacked, they are merely "released". The reality is that this means that the bottom performers are always being disciplined, there is literally no escape from this constant pressure to drive yourself harder and harder. It really puts one in mind of mice on a wheel or a poor horse or donkey pursuing a carrot dangling in front of them from their head collar.
The reality of these places is that the regime is geared to extracting the maximum effort from its workers for the minimum outlay, and when those workers are exhausted, or as they frequently are, injured, then they are booted out, and a fresh young batch of eager workers is drafted in to replace them.
Amazon have now included walking time within breaks, so many workers have now given up on taking their shorter breaks, because of the distances involved.
Health and safety are often ignored , with accidents and injuries not being properly recorded.
Crucially, around half of the picks people are doing are from either the bottom two levels or the very top level of the racking, thus putting employees at risk from leg and back injuries, or from overstretching or having stock falling on them.
Finally, "time off task" is constantly analysed and people are disciplined if they go to the toilet too many times for Amazon 's liking, even if picking targets are met.
The monitoring is intense, oppressive and intrusive.
We are planning to again visit all three major sites for which I have responsibility in the near future to offer our membership services to more Amazon workers, as part of a National and Regional push for membership.
Amazon has never been shy about trying to dissuade their workers from joining the GMB, and have even gone as far as to try and tell its workers that we want to shut the business down. They run these sights on fear, and rely on their workers' ignorance of their rights, and GMB are at the forefront of countering both of those factors. We are also planning some off site meetings within the local communities to encourage our members to help us recruit their colleagues into the GMB.