Amazon warehouses have become a potential ‘hotbed of contamination’, workers claimed yesterday.
Whistleblowers at two distribution plants said they feared the virus would thrive there amid a lack of hand sanitisers and non-enforcement of two-metre social distancing.
Amazon’s business is booming as shop closures and the lockdown has seen internet shopping surge.
Amazon has faced criticism for its protection measures during the crisis. Pictured above is a worker at its Tilbury centre in the UK
But a worker at a factory in Doncaster, where up to 90 night shift workers sort parcels for delivery, said the lack of space means they have been told to keep just one metre apart from each other – not the two metres recommended by the Government and World Health Organisation (WHO) to stop the spread of the virus. Workers who raised concerns were told ‘not now’. Amazon denied the claim.
Workers are also required to write their name in the signing in book, creating a huge risk of cross contamination, he said.
The worker, who wished to be anonymous, said: ‘It’s a potential hotbed of contamination. There’s no separation, no social distancing. If it spreads around our warehouse it could spread around the whole country on these parcels.’
The coronavirus can last on cardboard for up to 24 hours, and on plastic, metal and hard surfaces for up to 72 hours according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. However, the WHO says the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low, as is the risk of catching the virus from a package that has travelled and been exposed to different conditions and temperatures.
A worker at a separate Amazon warehouse in Doncaster also said the two-metre rule was not being enforced, especially in the canteen. They also said there was not enough hand sanitiser and staff were not given time to regularly to wash their hands.
‘Staff are dropping like flies because of illness but anyone who has to go home is mocked by the managers. They are hiring staff from all over to try to plug the gaps but this only increases the chances of spreading it.’
They added: ‘When anyone complains to the managers they make out you are crazy and tell you to get back on with your work.’
Chief executive Jeff Bezos, pictured with girlfriend Lauren Sanchez, has faced repeated criticism for his company’s lack of action to protect workers against coronavirus
Mick Rix, of the GMB union, said staff across the UK were ‘petrified’ of being infected.
‘Amazon is blatantly disregarding the two-metre social distancing rules, there are no masks, no sanitiser. Amazon has a duty of care – not just to its own workers but to the whole of the British public,’ Mr Rix said. An Amazon spokesman said: ‘Since the early days of this situation we have worked closely with local authorities and our people to proactively respond, ensuring we continue to serve customers while taking care of our people.’
He added that ‘proactive measures’ including increased cleaning and maintaining social distance were introduced at all facilities, as well as increased entitlement to paid time off.
Workers in at least 11 Amazon warehouses worldwide have tested positive for coronavirus. Chief executive Jeff Bezos is facing calls to provide better protection for staff. US senators have also written to Mr Bezos, whose girlfriend is TV host Lauren Sanchez, to express concerns.
In the US one warehouse worker was fired after organising a walkout to demand greater safeguards against the disease.
An Amazon employee protests against the company outside its facility in New York
Amazon workers have said that the company is not taking action to look after their health
Chris Small was dismissed after the one-day strike at the warehouse in Staten Island, New York, as workers called for it to be shut and cleaned during paid time off after a colleague tested positive.
New York attorney general Letitia James called the sacking a ‘disgrace’ and warned Amazon it could face legal action. Amazon said it fired Mr Small for violating a quarantine order after he allegedly came into contact with the colleague who tested positive.
It comes after staff at online fashion retailer Asos claimed they are scared to go to work at its distribution centre because they are not being properly protected.
Workers at the warehouse in Barnsley said there were no social distancing measures, the clocking in system saw lots of people gathered in a small area and hundreds of workers broke for lunch at the same time, a GMB survey found.
Asos strenuously denied the claims and Barnsley council leader Stephen Houghton said inspections of the warehouse last week had not shown any problems.