Zero-hour contracts and wrong wages - the reality of being an Amazon agency worker

  • Video report and words by ITV News Correspondent Richard Pallot

Amid rising unemployment, working in an Amazon fulfilment centre can be one of the few roles available.

Indeed, in Scotland and Wales in the run-up to Christmas, around nine out of 10 warehouse jobs advertised were with the world’s biggest online retailer.

ITV News, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Mirror analysed 9,000 adverts posted for Amazon roles on the UK’s biggest recruiting website late last year. Every single one was posted by either Adecco or PMP Recruitment, both agencies hired by Amazon.

But many of the temporary staff taken on have told ITV News that they felt exploited, and were put on zero-hour contracts – breaching Amazon’s own stated policy that they never use such contracts and that everyone will be paid for a guaranteed 20 hours a week, even when 20 hours of work is not available.

Nathan Bone says within four weeks of starting, he was getting paid nothing at all.

The 25-year-old had been without a job during the Covid-19 pandemic when he was hired by recruitment agency Adecco to work at the Amazon depot in Motherwell.

The role was as a Christmas sortation associate between November and January, on a promise he claims of 40 hours per week with potential overtime.

  • Nathan Bone said he went from five shifts a week to zero within his first couple of weeks at Amazon

“You’re sold this offer of full-time or part-time hours – whatever works best for you”"To start with, it’s all OK but then as demand rises and falls, shifts are cancelled, often at the last minute.

"It’s effectively a zero hour contract. it made me angry.“

He couldn’t leave as he was on Universal Credit at the time and quitting meant he would have been sanctioned without another job lined up, which of course was very difficult to find.

Student Olivia Hall faced similar problems at the Doncaster depot. She took on short-term contracts both through Adecco and another agency, PMP Recruitment.

“I’d often receive a text at 1am saying the shift is cancelled, then another reinstating it at 3am, then again cancelled again at 5am," says the 20-year-old.

  • Olivia Hall says she had her shifts cancelled at short notice numerous times

"You wouldn’t know what was right, so you’d pay to get yourself to work by 8am, and then they’d send you home with no compensation.

"I felt frustrated, exploited and expendable.

“There was no apology.

"Even when I rang up and said: 'Why have you cancelled me?'

"I was just told: 'We just randomly pick names to not come into work that day'."

Olivia often was left with only one six-hour shift per week.

When she complained this wouldn’t allow her to cover even her rent, she says she was told bluntly to find another way of paying it.

She claims her wages were incorrectly calculated by both agencies on numerous occasions, although they were eventually rectified.

She also says she was owed around £400 by Adecco upon leaving, and that it took her the best part of two months to reclaim that.

An Amazon warehouse in Deptford Credit: ITV News

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner has hit out at the way the online giant operates.

“It is really disgraceful," Ms Raynor said.

"If you look at Amazon’s profits, and their UK sales last year of nearly £20 billion, it is terrible that they are treating their workforce that way.

"They’re not even giving them secure work, they don’t know when they are going to get paid.

"That’s not a decent employer, they need to step up.”

In response, Amazon told ITV News: “We created 20,000 seasonal positions for the festive period across the country. Our agency terms are explicit that we do not engage individuals on zero hour contracts.

"Associates on temporary assignments at Amazon, who are employed by agencies, work a range of shifts from full-time to part-time, however in the majority of cases a 40-hour week is offered."

Adecco said that: “The welfare of our associates is an absolute priority for us and we work closely with clients to ensure they have the best possible experience.

"Associates are paid fairly and we offer up to 40-hours per week of work, part time or flexible shifts.

"We are in regular communication with all our associates to ensure they have a clear understanding of their work assignments.”

Amazon Credit: PA

PMP Recruitment said: “Temporary recruitment agencies such as PMP exist to support the flexible labour requirements of customers.

"As a result, we are unable to offer our workforce full time guaranteed hour contracts but we do, on a regular basis, offer 40 hour weeks or hours to suit personal circumstances.

"In this specific case, our colleagues are not employed under zero-hour contracts and are provided with a guaranteed minimum number of shifts per week.”

They also promised to investigate shifts being repeatedly cancelled at the last minute.

Amazon has been one of the definite winners of the Covid pandemic, as it has its founder Jeff Bezos, who earlier this week became the world's richest person again.

Uncomfortable timing to say the least - given the guarantee for some workers at the bottom seems less reliable than the rapid delivery to your doorstep.