March 6, 2015

When Amazon presents “The Offer” you may not want to take it


Cash for careers

Cash for careers

Amazon UK has a shiny new offer for its employees. The company will hand over a cash bonus of £3,500 to employees if they take voluntary redundancy, The Bookseller reports. According to staff at Amazon distribution centres in Swansea and Milton Keynes, they have been approached and verbally offered £3,500 to leave their jobs. Staff who have taken up the offer have stated that when they did leave the company, they got much less than what was promised.

Amazon UK has a characteristically-euphemistic name for its new deal: “The Offer”. I would call it: “Let’s get rid of long-term employees to whom we have to give basic but oh so pricey benefits like sick and holiday pay and hire new employees to whom we don’t owe anything, giving us cheap labour and preserving the frightening atmosphere of precariousness that our employees know and love.”

Amazon states “The Offer” [read: Pact with the Devil] is for those employees who are “ready for a new career”. Usually Amazon distribution centres are in old industrial towns, parts of the country where there are few other employment opportunities for inhabitants. That’s why Amazon’s been able to set up huge warehouses in these places and exploit vulnerable citizens who are desperate for work; it’s the same reason why the British government has been throwing millions in grants at them, to thank them for creating those insecure jobs.

The union GMB has quickly called “The Offer” unlawful, stating that:

Amazon is bypassing the law when it comes to redundancies and getting rid of staff. At both Swansea and Milton Keynes members of staff have been verbally asked to consider voluntarily applying to leave the company for a lump sum of up to £3,500 which is less than the statutory amount due in many cases. The company have been asked and refused to put this offer in writing.

This is not how a redundancy situation should be dealt with in the UK. Amazon should submit a HR1 notice to the Secretary of State and then undertake a proper consultation exercise before selecting any staff to go.

Amazon has now denied that it is implementing a redundancy programme, insisting that it is actually committed to hiring more staff, not firing them. In the usual Amazon language, they underlined their dedication to always put the customer first:

We have added well over 2,000 new permanent employees in the UK over the past two years, and we are still hiring. Customers are best served by an engaged, positive workforce and that is our focus. We created the ‘The Offer’ to provide employees who are ready for a new career with an opportunity to smooth their transition, whilst rewarding their service to customers. ‘The Offer’ is not a redundancy programme. We are happy to say very few of our employees chose to voluntarily resign under the programme, choosing instead to stay and continue to do great work for customers.

They love customers! But not staff. What if their members of staff are also customers? Best not to think about it. The Bookseller provides a helpful reminder of the law in Britain when it comes to letting staff go:

According to the law, if an employer proposes making 20 or more roles redundant at one location in the space of 90 days, they are obliged to consult with a trade union or elected employee representatives, begin consultations at least 30 days before dismissals take place, and notify the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills at least 30 or 45 days before dismissals occur.

The law is clear, but Amazon’s offer is not, making it easier for it to avoid adhering to lawful forms of redundancy. Let’s hope the GMB union stays on its case.




Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.