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Amazon UK responds strongly to allegations of employee mistreatment

Billy Joel once sang that working too hard can give you a heart attack. And according to a recent investigation into a UK-based Amazon warehouse, that just might be the case.

The BBC this week alleged that employees at the warehouse are working under conditions that a stress expert said could cause "mental and physical illness."

Based on video footage collected by undercover reporter Adam Littler, working as a "picker" who collects orders from 800,000 square feet of storage, the BBC reported rough conditions at the Amazon fulfillment centre. During one night shift, Littler was expected to walk about 11 miles in total and collect orders every 33 seconds. When he took too long, a handset he carried would beep.

"We are machines, we are robots, we plug our scanner in, we're holding it, but we might as well be plugging it into ourselves," Littler said in the BBC report. "We don't think for ourselves, maybe they don't trust us to think for ourselves as human beings, I don't know."

However, Amazon has strongly refuted the charges made in the BBC report.

"The safety of our associates is our No. 1 priority, and we adhere to all regulations and employment law," the UK arm of the company said in a statement.

Amazon has reportedly added an average of 12 per cent to annual base pay for its UK warehouse workers in the past five years, boosting a two-year associate's salary to £8.98 per hour for a day shift, or £10.78 per hour for working nights. Littler, who was new to the position, began at a daily rate of £6.50, and was bumped to £8.25 when he opted for the night shift.

Once, after the 10.5-hour shift during which he walked nearly 11 miles, Littler said he was "absolutely shattered" from physical exhaustion.

"Amazon has retained an independent expert who has visited our buildings and associates," the online retail giant continued in its defense. "In the independent expert's opinion, a picking role is similar to jobs in many other industries and does not increase the risk of mental and physical illness.

"We understand that our progress depends on good execution and good judgment from thousands of employees. Together, we're working hard to make sure that we are better tomorrow than we are today."

According to the BBC, Amazon has invested £1 billion in the UK and created 5,000 permanent jobs.

Amazon isn't the only company that's been scrutinised for its working conditions. Apple manufacturers Hon Hai (a.k.a. Foxconn) and Biel Crystal have made headlines for labour rights violations.