Amazon’s tech staff outnumber its retail employees in Australia

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Amazon now employs around 4000 people in its Australian cloud business – nearly double the number of permanent staff in the tech giant’s local retail business, which still relies heavily on labour hire and independent contractors five years after launching.

Fronting a Senate Select Committee on Work and Care in Sydney on Monday, Amazon executives revealed its Amazon Web Services staff dwarves the 2000 permanent workers in its six gigantic Australian fulfilment centres and around 200 operations staff.

The Tech giant also uses another 1300 labour hire workers at the fulfilment centres, and 3000 “independent contractors” to deliver parcels, with the less secure workforce drawing scrutiny from the Senate Committee.

Photo: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

The labour hire workers – predominantly sourced through global giant Adecco – are paid $28.80 per hour – $1.37 less than the permanent workers’ hourly rate of $30.17.

Amazon also uses 3000 “independent contractors” for its delivery service Amazon Flex, which company executives told the inquiry was for workers wanting “supplemental” income.

These drivers can register for three-to-eight-hour blocks. They are paid $128 for a four-hour delivery block but need to cover their own expenses and liabilities. Based on minimum wage, it leaves just $10 dollars per hour to cover expenses like the vehicle, fuel and insurance.

The Transport Workers Union has criticised the pay as unfair and the third party delivery model as unsafe.

The tech giant’s executives were also questioned about a heavy reliance on labour hire at its six fulfilment centres in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

The executives said around one third of the fulfilment centre workers are not employed by Amazon. These workers are supplied by the Australian arm of Adecco, one of the world’s largest temporary staffing firms.

Amazon Australia’s operations director Mirinda Espidio-Garcia could not answer the inquiry’s question about whether the labour hire workers ultimately cost the company more because of the additional fee paid to Adecco.

She defended the reliance on labour hire, saying Amazon was relatively new to the Australian market five years after launching and still attempting to understand “the seasonality of demand”.

“I think it is absolutely our goal, as we continue to understand those trends better, to be able to continue to offer more permanent roles or permanent pathways for those labour hire agency employees,” Ms Espidio-Garcia told the inquiry.

She said the vast majority of Amazon’s 2000 permanent workers in its fulfilment centres had begun as labour hire workers, with Labor senator Linda White’s suggesting the tech giant was using the model to “try before you buy” workers.

Amazon executives were also challenged on the claim Amazon Flex workers are delivering packages only as supplemental income.

“It’s long been a phrase used about all of women’s earnings—they’re always supplementary to a breadwinner,” The Senate Committee’s chair Barbara Pocock said.

“In fact, you and I have no idea what is supplementary to what. The point in labour law is that we have a fair, basic standard and a living wage for workers. Saying that a workforce of 3,000 people who may or may not know or be able to predict their pay, their workload or their pace of work have the wonderful opportunity of supplementary earnings—I’m very uncomfortable personally with that language.”

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