Amazon workers sacked for talking to union: TWU

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The transport union has claimed Amazon delivery drivers were sacked after they spoke with union officials during a site visit to check on worker safety, and that at a subsequent site visit the union was denied entry and the tech giant called police.

Amazon denies the claims made by the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) on Thursday at a Senate inquiry into job security, which heard the US tech giant would do anything to “protect a system of exploitation”.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine told the Labor-led inquiry drivers involved in Amazon’s third-party delivery service, Amazon Flex, now feared public criticism of the tech giant or even being seen speaking with unions would lead to their work drying up.

“We asked many of these drivers, but they refused to attend [the hearing] because they fear that their livelihoods will be cut and stripped away with no recourse,” Mr Kaine said.

“I’ve got to concede those fears are not misplaced.”

Australian unions have accused Amazon of monitoring workers’ union interactions.

Amazon Flex is the US giant’s last mile delivery service where it uses gig economy workers to deliver parcels. Unions told the inquiry there was evidence the work was dangerous and workers received unfair pay.

Mr Kaine said his union visited an Amazon Flex distribution centre in Minchinbury, New South Wales, last year to inspect conditions and whether the company was providing drivers with the safety training it is required to under state laws.

Several workers were “terminated” shortly after the visit, according to Mr Kaine.

“Indiscriminately people received a notification in the morning [after the TWU visit] saying they didn’t have a job anymore,” he told the inquiry.

“And it wasn’t lost on those drivers that those sackings took place only days after many had spoken with the TWU.”

At a subsequent visit, the union was prevented from entering the facility by Amazon, which called police to have union officials removed, according to Mr Kaine.

“The fact of the matter is that Amazon is trying to cover up a system that is exploiting drivers – Amazon Flex drivers,” he said.

Mr Kaine said based on the Australian minimum wage for casual workers, Amazon Flex drivers were left with around $3 an hour to provide all additional employment costs, like superannuation, annual leave, vehicle maintenance and insurance.

A spokesperson for Amazon said the company had never terminated the services of any delivery drivers in connection with speaking to a union, and there had been “dozens” of union visits to Amazon facilities in the last year, which the company had facilitated in line with “necessary authorisations and entry rights”.

The Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on the TWU visit that resulted in police being called.

Other Australian and global transport worker unions told the inquiry the tech giant was engaging in anti-union behaviour and is monitoring workers which do engage with union officials with electronic surveillance.

“We realise that everything we do [with Amazon workers] is under surveillance. Not only from the managers in the room but there is CCTV footage [being recorded] in the tea break areas where we engage with members,” Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association branch secretary treasure Bernie Smith told the inquiry.

“We find that strange.”

Globally, Amazon is known to monitor it facilities and workers’ performance, and has a growing reputation for resisting the unionisation of its workers.

The local Amazon spokesperson said Australian facilities are regularly monitored but denied the surveillance is used to check on union visits.

“Like any other responsible business, we maintain a level of security within our operations to help keep our employees, buildings, and inventory safe,” the spokesperson said.

“We certainly don’t monitor our employees’ interactions with union officials.”

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