Only trade unions can defend workers’ rights
The Swansea Amazon warehouse location, next to the former Linamar/Visteon/Ford site, is a graphic illustration of how casualised, low-paid work has replaced unionised, skilled manufacturing.
The local press has hailed Amazon for announcing it will employ 1,500 extra workers in the run-up to Christmas.
However, an agency worker who was at Amazon last Christmas told me about their experience.
“At the end of the first day’s warehouse tour, the guide pointed out ‘your rep’s office’. One new worker asked if they meant union rep, but was told it was the agency rep’s office and they didn’t have unions. Don’t think the person asking the question lasted long!
“The first wage packet was a lot smaller than anybody expected, with compulsory deductions for a locker deposit (although I wasn’t assigned a locker as there weren’t enough), CRB check and drugs test.
“Despite supposedly being employed for 25 hours a week plus overtime, workers were frequently sent home, often not having earned enough to pay for their bus fare or petrol.
“Some days, agency workers were sent home while work was given to unpaid jobseekers on the workfare scheme.”
Amazon pays next to no tax in the UK but is at liberty to take advantage of government schemes that provide free labour!
Points mean P45s
“It is not easy to get to the site by public transport, especially around Christmas, but anybody turning up late would be assigned penalty points. These were accumulated and led to dismissals.
“Other ‘offences’ attracting points included ‘errors’, like not putting the right amount of brown paper in a box or forgetting to put in the advertisements. All absences (all unpaid of course) were treated the same, even certificated sickness or attending a job interview.
“The site had a real gulag feel. Everybody was subject to security scans whenever they left the floor, and random scans while working, with a handheld scanner.
“CCTV cameras are everywhere and you’re told that you can face a drug or alcohol test at any time, have your locker searched or your drinking water tested.
“Everybody was fearful when scanning their security card to gain entry to the site; finding your card had been deactivated was a common way of discovering you had been dismissed. This happened to people on Christmas Eve. Others were dismissed and escorted off the floor part way through a shift.”
Unionisation of sites like Amazon in Swansea is essential to halt the race to the bottom on workers’ rights.
The determination of the BFAWU members at Hovis (see the Socialist issue 781, Bakers rise against Hovis: Victory shows zero-hours can be beaten) shows how militant trade unionism can beat casualisation.