Belfast Telegraph

Minister seeks Amazon talks over 'unacceptable' working conditions claims

Scotland's Economy Secretary wants a meeting with Amazon bosses following allegations of "unacceptable" working conditions at the internet retailer's largest UK distribution centre.

Keith Brown said he was "concerned" about the situation and hopes to raise the issues with the firm in the next few days.

The Sunday Times reported that staff at the company's Dunfermline depot in Fife could face the sack if they are off work ill for four days, even if they have a doctor's note.

Local MSP Willie Rennie raised the issue in Holyrood, asking what the Scottish Government's response was to " reports of intolerable working conditions".

Mr Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and North East Fife MSP, said: "In one case the company penalised a worker for being in hospital with a kidney infection.

"The Scottish Government paid almost £1 million to Amazon last year even though it did not pay all its workers the real living wage."

Mr Brown told him: " It's important all employees in all workplaces are treated fairly and the Scottish Government is doing everything it can within its powers to drive up employment standards and promote good working practices.

"I am concerned about the reports over the weekend and my office has been touch with Amazon, and we are working on establishing a meeting to take place in the next seven days so these issues can be raised.

"Of course these matters are of concern to the Scottish Government, as they would be of concern to anybody. It's important we do what we can to raise them."

Mr Brown said that while the Scottish Government did not have the power to legislate to make employers pay the living wage, "i n the absence of that what we can do is make representations and speak to Amazon and make clear how we find these practices unacceptable, and that's what will happen over the next few days"

He added: "It's very important we do what we can to bring jobs to Scotland, which is the purpose of these grants.

"Of course it is also very important that we promote fair work and fair work practices, and that will be the focus of the meeting I will have with Amazon in the coming days."

Mr Rennie said afterwards: "It is ridiculous that the only action proposed is for Keith Brown to have the same meeting to discuss the same subjects as Roseanna Cunningham had in the apring.

"The Scottish Government is having zero impact. Tea and biscuits failed last time. We are only going to see a shuttle bus develop between Parliament and Amazon so more meetings can happen."

A spokeswoman for the online retailer said: "Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace with competitive pay and benefits from day one. We are proud to have been able to create several thousand new permanent roles in our UK fulfilment centres over the last five 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."

Permanent and temporary workers are all paid at least £7.35 an hour, the company said, with rates rising to £11 an hour for overtime.

The spokeswoman added: "As with nearly all companies, we expect a certain level of performance from our associates. Productivity targets are set objectively, based on previous performance levels achieved by our workforce.

"Associate performance is measured and evaluated over a long period of time as we know that a variety of things could impact the ability to meet expectations in any given day or hour. We support people who are not performing to the levels expected with dedicated coaching to help them improve."

Mark Ruskell, Scottish Green MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, also raised the issue at Holyrood, saying: " For too long we've heard stories of intolerable working conditions for staff at Amazon's Fife warehouse. I highlighted to ministers, who over the years have approved generous public funding to Amazon, how hostile the company has been toward union representation.

"One union has said they felt like the French Resistance the last time they tried to encourage workers to sign up. Scottish ministers must stop wringing their hands over this. They should be clear with firms such as Amazon that if they receive Government support they must afford employees basic rights such as making union membership available."