The TUC has criticised the government as up to £630m of taxpayers’ money has been spent on contracts with tech giant Amazon over the last five years – despite its poor record on workers’ rights.
The new analysis, conducted for the Trades Union Congress and the GMB union, found that in 2020 alone Amazon has been given contracts worth over £23m, including several in Test and Trace valued at £8.3m.
The trade union federation is now urging the government to put pressure on Amazon via its upcoming employment bill and “level up” conditions amid accusations that the company badly mistreats its workers.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This is a key test for the government’s levelling up agenda. If ministers are serious about improving lives, they must help ‘level up’ working conditions at places like Amazon.
“Amazon workers have played a key role during this pandemic. But many are treated like disposable labour. That is not right. Public contracts should not reward bad working practices.
“The government must use its purchasing power to ensure people are given dignity at work and a wage they can live on. And the government must get on with introducing its long-awaited employment bill. This is a golden opportunity to boost rights and pay.”
The new research shows that central government procurement accounts for 82 different contracts that were awarded to Amazon in the last five years, which have a total lifetime value of £225m.
The tech giant also received a staggering £405m contract from the Yorkshire Purchasing Organisation (YPO) to create a digital marketplace for the 13 local authorities covered by the YPO.
Ambulances were called out over 600 times to 14 Amazon warehouses in Britain between 2015 and 2018, according to a freedom of information request filed by GMB. Amazon’s chief executive is the world’s richest person, Jeff Bezos.
GMB national officer Mick Rix said: “Amazon is trousering hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ hard-earned cash through public sector contracts – while paying a pittance in tax on their vast profits. It’s beyond parody.
“Meanwhile, workers in Amazon warehouses are being taken away in ambulances, forced to go to the toilet using bins and bottles and are now contracting Covid while packed into warehouses like sardines.
“This report is a warning to the public sector that it can no longer turn a blind eye to Amazon’s exploitative practices… It’s time for the UK government and safety regulators to either tell Amazon’s management to put their house in order or send them packing.”
The TUC has called on the government to include a variety of new measures to protect workers, such as those in Amazon warehouses, in its proposed employment bill that was announced as part of the Queen’s Speech last year.
The union body wants the legislation to ensure unions have access to workplaces, to ban zero-hour contracts, end bogus self-employment claims and strengthen liability laws to protect the rights of workers in supply chains.
Amazon has a history of being hostile to any attempts to unionise its workforce in the fight for better pay and conditions, particularly in the US where it issued management with training videos on how to combat trade unionism.
Unions across Europe, including GMB, Usdaw and CWU in the UK, called on the European Commission to investigate Amazon last month for alleged “illegal” spying after it posted job listings for two analysts to track “labor organising threats”.
The latest revelations about Amazon’s contracts follow criticism of the government’s use of private firms during coronavirus. Labour earlier this month accused Downing Street of “rewarding private sector failings”.
Serco and Sitel, the two firms hired by the government to help run the national test and trace programme, are set to receive over £1bn for their work on the scheme. Serco receives 40% of its annual revenue from running UK public services.
The TUC is hosting a panel this afternoon titled ‘Challenging Amazon – what can we do about Amazon’s treatment of workers?‘. A range of trade union figures will discuss Amazon’s exploitation of workers.