Staff at a “flagship” Amazon site have explained the financial and emotional toll of taking home less than the minimum wage, after it was revealed they are effectively forced to pay a third-party for an “unaffordable” special bus service.
People working for the online retailer in Rugeley, Staffs, have said the situation sees them forking out well over a hundred pounds a month to private bus firms - and that they pay even more for taxis when the buses fail to turn up.
“All the sacrifices and hard work and nobody cares,” one worker said.
Some staff at the warehouse were found by HuffPost UK to have no other option but to pay for a special bus service from Birmingham, 20 miles away, to get to work on time on certain days.
We reported how, after being paid £7.65 an hour, the £8 per day cost of a return journey meant affected workers pocketed just £6.80 an hour - well below the minimum wage of £7.50 for the over 25s.
Local councillors said staff working at Amazon had even been seen sleeping under canal bridges as a result of dire transport links.
The situation was uncovered following a public sightseeing tour of the site and, in response, Amazon announced plans to slash the cost of a return journey to Birmingham in half.
But speaking on condition of anonymity, staff working at Amazon in Rugeley have told HuffPost they’ve grown used to spending hundreds on travel to the site - and have even forked out £45 for taxis when special services failed to turn up.
The site at Rugeley is remote from reliable transport links and on weekends, local train services are scheduled too late for shifts starting before 7.45 am.
Many staff at Amazon in Rugeley work 10 hours a day with a half-hour unpaid break and two shorter paid breaks. Shifts can be longer overnight.
As a result, one worker revealed how he was forced to take two buses for a journey beginning at Dudley Port, 20 miles from Rugeley, and which takes over and two and a half hours each way.
“I get up at 4.45am and don’t get home until gone 8pm,” the worker said.
The worker was left with less than the minimum wage after paying at least £140 a week on travel.
He said part of his journey is on a special bus service which delivers Amazon staff to the American firm’s own bus station at the warehouse.
Another worker said he paid £45 for a taxi in the early hours when a special bus service didn’t arrive as expected near his home in Wolverhampton, 15 miles from Rugeley.
“I… took the taxi because I didn’t want to be late at work, cause I’ve been working so hard to get my permanent contract,” they told HuffPost.
The situation arose because of a fire which swept through the warehouse overnight.
The worker added: “There was a fire in the warehouse during the night and they didn’t send the buses to take the people to work on that day[.]
“They [sent] everybody messages only by 07:15 am, and at that time the buses usually were already arriving at Amazon with the people.”
While staff were paid for planned shifts while the warehouse was brought back online following the incident, they weren’t reimbursed for the taxi costs.
The worker, in his mid-twenties and on a temporary contract, added: “I have to wake up every day by 5 am, walk 30 minutes to the bus in the centre [of Wolverhampton] and I’m spending £100 a month only to get to work by bus.”
All the sacrifices and hard work and nobody cares
He said the problems made him feel as though he wasn’t valued by Amazon.
“Nobody cares about me anymore. That is so disappointing. All the sacrifices and hard work and nobody cares,” he said.
Amazon said it “made every effort to support people impacted by the incident, including sending a text to everyone due to attend the site several hours before their shift was due to start.”
Other workers at Amazon sites across the country have told HuffPost of working conditions they describe as arduous, and physical problems allegedly brought about by the fast-pace of work and target-driven processes.
One person working at an Amazon warehouse in Swansea, Wales, said some staff were walking up to 17 miles a day in “picking” jobs, while others stood stationary for so long they developed blood clots.
“It’s like modern-day slave labour,” they added.
In response, Amazon said those working in its warehouses have a choice of roles to suit their own preferences. “Many associates... enjoy the active nature of the work,” it said.
Amazon, which made sales worth £7.3bn in the UK last year, has been harshly criticised by an influential Labour MP.
“Yet again Amazon appears as an octopus wrapping its tentacles around workers’ lives and suffocating their pay and conditions,” Frank Field, the chair of the Commons Work and Pensions committee, told HuffPost.
Field has previously called for an inquiry into Amazon’s working practices.
‘Matter of real concern’
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) said the situation at the firm’s Rugeley site “is not uncommon.”
“We see this not only with warehousing where employers choose rural locations but also with the agricultural sector too,” the TUC’s employment expert Hannah Reed told HuffPost.
“There is a concern that where workplaces are remote those in insecure work and those in these types of jobs cannot afford the transport.
“The law provides very limited protection for individuals in this situation.
“This is another example of how people in insecure low paid jobs are losing out and it’s a matter of real concern.”
The firm responded to HuffPost’s exclusive on Wednesday to say that most people in Britain pay to get to work and that its workers have a choice of how to travel to their jobs.
An Amazon spokesperson told HuffPost: “Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace with competitive pay and benefits from day one. We are proud to have been able to create thousands of new permanent roles in our UK fulfilment centres in recent years.
“One of the reasons we’ve been able to attract so many people to join us is that we offer great jobs and a positive work environment with opportunities for growth. We perform an annual wages analysis to ensure we are offering competitive wages and great benefits to our people.
“All permanent and temporary Amazon workers start on £7.65 an hour or above, regardless of age and £11 an hour and above for overtime, with 30 minutes of paid breaks and subsidised meals.
“Base pay increases over time and permanent employees also receive a comprehensive benefits package, including private medical insurance, a company pension plan, life assurance, income protection, subsidised meals and an employee discount.
“All permanent people also receive stock grants, which over the last five years equates to £1,000 or more per year per associate.
“Most people in the UK have to travel to their place of work and pay their own transport costs. People who work at Amazon choose how to travel to work, whether by car, bicycle or public transport[.]
″[D]uring the seasonal period, Amazon is supporting those who travel longer distances to work in its fulfilment centres by helping with car share arrangements as well as providing subsidised coach travel if that is the best option for them with daily return fares of £4.”
A recruitment agency working with Amazon said it would amend an online advert which described the special bus services as a “benefit” of a job with the firm at Rugeley.
Amazon has previously described Rugeley as one of its “flagship” sites.
[Do you or someone you know work for Amazon at Rugeley or elsewhere? Get in touch with your experiences. Contact George.Bowden@huffpost.com]
CORRECTION: This article has been amended to reflect the fact Amazon sent out text messages to inform staff at Rugeley of the fire. We have also added in more information from Amazon on its pay and benefit policies.