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"We are robots": Panorama slams Amazon working conditions, German workers quit

If employees at Google thought they were having a hard time, they should see what's happening over at fellow web giant Amazon.

Workers at Amazon's logistics centres in the German towns of Leipzig and Bad Hersfeld, today took part in one-day industrial action which saw hundreds of workers walking out, according to German labour union Verdi.

The Leipzig centre saw 200 staff leave their workstations, while 300 left the floor at Bad Hersfeld.

The strikers are demanding higher wages and better working conditions for Amazon employees, which were recently found to be conducive to "mental and physical illness" by a BBC-led investigation.

The web retail giant has employed 15,000 extra staff to cope with sky-rocketing demand in the run-up to Christmas. However, undercover journalists working for the Panorama programme exposed how the working conditions at many Amazon distribution centres have caused some employees to walk 11 miles in a ten-and-a-half-hour night shift, and collect orders every 33 seconds.

Undercover reporter Adam Littler was employed at Amazon's 800,000 sq ft Swansea warehouse.

He discovered working conditions in which humans were reduced to the level of machines. A handset told him what to collect, and allotted him a set number of seconds to find each product. The handset counted down, and if he made a mistake it beeped at him.

"We are machines, we are robots," he said. "We plug our scanner in, we're holding it, but we might as well be plugging it into ourselves."

Professor Michael Marmot, of UCL's Institute of Health Equity, one of Britain's leading experts on stress in the workplace, said the working conditions at the warehouse constituted "all the bad stuff at once".

Concerning the walkouts in Germany, Amazon's German logistics chief Dave Clark issued a strong statement condemning the action.

"We will not be blackmailed in to cooperating with an organisation that threatens to ruin Christmas for German children," he told Die Welt.

Amazon employs around 9,000 workers in Germany, which has grown into the web giant's biggest market outside the United States. Sales in Germany grew almost 21 per cent in 2012, reaching $8.7 billion (£5.38 billion).

With such poor conditions affecting these minimum-wage earning staff, and Amazon paying very little in tax in many countries, it's starting to become clearer how the retailer can afford to offer its service at such a profit.

Image: Flickr (evadedave)