Australian workers and unions join global Amazon protests as report highlights worker abuses

Workers and their unions the TWU and SDA will today join global protests at Amazon over the multi-billion-dollar profit-making company’s appalling safety standards and working conditions this Black Friday.

Amnesty International Australia will join the protests as their international report is released which has found significant evidence of Amazon’s mistreatment of workers. The report found that around the world, Amazon fired workers for raising health and safety concerns during the pandemic, imposed harsh productivity quotas, and conducted inappropriate monitoring of Flex drivers’ private Facebook groups.

The report also revealed Amazon labelled labour unions a ‘business risk,’ and posted a job listing for ‘intelligence analysts’ to track ‘labor organizing threats.’

Both in Australia and around the world, Amazon puts in place barriers for unions and workers to discuss or act on workplace issues. In 2018, the TWU and SDA joined forces as the Online Retail and Delivery Workers Alliance to organise Amazon workers to get safer workplaces and better conditions.

“Insecure work is unsafe work. This week, in the shadows of the online Black Friday sales the SDA Union is heading back to the Federal Court, for an SDA member at Amazon. The worker, a labour hire employee at the Sydney Amazon Fulfilment Centre believes she was set to get a permanent job with Amazon until she told them she was pregnant. Then the job offer disappeared.

“The case highlights the precarious nature of insecure work. If she had been directly hired from the beginning of her work for Amazon our member would be looking forward to the birth of her child secure in the knowledge she would be taking parental leave and returning to her work with Amazon. Instead she faces uncertainty and a court case,” said SDA NSW Secretary Bernie Smith.

“Amazon is a retail giant that has made record profits during the pandemic, but is well known around the world for its awful treatment of workers. The dangerous conditions Amazon imposes on transport and warehouse workers have no place in global industry standards and certainly not in Australia,” said NSW State Secretary Richard Olsen.

“What’s abundantly clear is that Amazon and companies like it are attempting to normalise worker exploitation under the guise of innovation. In the last three months, five food delivery riders working in the gig economy have been killed on our roads. Those workers died without any rights and without workers compensation to take care of their families. We’re going to see the same carnage with Amazon’s new gig-style model ‘Amazon Flex’ unless the Federal Government urgently steps up and regulates this industry,” Olsen continued.

Amnesty International Australia campaigner Joel MacKay supported workers’ right to fair representation: “Although it’s illegal in Australia to stop workers organising, Amazon has form in using heavy handed tactics to make it clear to its employees that it doesn’t want them to join a union.

“They’re walking an extremely thin line in doing this and we want Amazon workers, and any other workers in Australia for that matter, to know that it’s their right to organise and to demand fair pay and conditions and we will support them in doing just that,” MacKay said.

Amnesty International’s report also highlighted a 33 per cent increase in serious injuries at Amazon US compared to 2016 and an injury rate nearly double the most recent industry standard.

In the US, a 2019 investigation into Amazon Flex revealed that unsafe work practices and pressure on drivers led to 60 accidents, among them 10 deaths.

Since Amazon Flex came onto the scene in Australia early in 2020, there have been numerous complaints of health and safety breaches, with workers forced to fill their cars until rear vision mirrors were impeded, receiving a warning if they refused to do so.

An examination of Amazon’s pay rates by the TWU this year also revealed that its drivers are being paid well under Australia’s minimum wage when considering costs like insurance, petrol and maintenance.

NSW has recently commenced an inquiry into the future of work and the gig economy. Delivery riders and the TWU gave evidence at hearings this month.

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