Life in the Amazon Jungle By Brian Simpson

     Wow, I had a bad feeling every time I got a book from Amazon, that people must be working in cages like beasts. No, that is optimistic, because presumably even in a cage one can still, in the worst case, do one’s business as my mother used to say, however messy. But, at Amazon you better wear a nappy, and be snappy, and happy:

“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.


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 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.”

     Monitoring of workers has got to the level that Amazon has something to teach the communist Chinese:

“What if your employer made you wear a wristband that tracked your every move, and that even nudged you via vibrations when it judged that you were doing something wrong? What if your supervisor could identify every time you paused to scratch or fidget, and for how long you took a bathroom break? What may sound like dystopian fiction could become a reality for Amazon warehouse workers around the world. The company has won two patentsfor such a wristband, though it was unclear if Amazon planned to actually manufacture the tracking device and have employees wear it. The online retail giant, which plans to build a second headquarters and recently shortlisted 20 potential host cities for it, has also been known to experiment in-house with new technology before selling it worldwide.”

     I mentioned at the beginning of the article about working in a cage, as a metaphor for a gaol sentence, But then by a bit of Googling, I found that this cage idea has been considered by Amazon:

“A cage for workers on wheels. It sounds like the stuff of science fiction. It’s not. In 2016, Amazon filed a patent for a device described as a “system and method for transporting personnel within an active workplace”. It is actually a cage large enough to fit a worker. It’s mounted on top of an automated trolley device. A robotic arm faces outwards. The worker cage was designed by Amazon’s robotic engineers. It was intended to protect workers in Amazon’s warehouses when they needed to venture into spaces where robot stock-pickers whizz around. Amazon’s worker cage was quietly patented and only came to global attention thanks to the diligent digging of two academics. When the workers’ cage started to appear in newspaper headlines, Amazon executives declared it a “bad idea”.

Amazon may have dropped the plans, but that should not come as a surprise. The company doesn’t need a robotic cage for workers – it already has one of the most all-pervasive control systems in history. In its huge warehouses, workers carry hand-held computers that control their movements. A wristband patented by the company (but which is not yet in use) can direct the movement of workers’ hands using “haptic feedback”. Stock pickers in Amazon warehouses are watched by cameras, and workers have reportedly been reduced to urinating in bottles in order to hit their targets, and they are constantly reminded of their productivity rates. Investigations by journalists have also exposed a worryingly high level of ambulance call-outs to Amazon warehouses in the UK.”

     Welcome to the dystopic world of 21st century work. Being replaced by a robot is arguably preferable to being made into just a meat machine. 



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Tuesday, 20 October 2020
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