A report by GMB, one of the UK’s largest trade unions, has revealed that tougher surveillance measures have been put in place for Asos warehouse staff including requesting staff remove their shoes for spot checks and regular toilet and water breaks have been limited for fear of missing targets. Due to these results, the BMB has requested that the Business Select Committee launches an inquiry into their working practices, warning it could become “the next Sports Direct”.
According to an investigation by BuzzFeedNews, agency employees are kept on contracts allowing the company to send them home without pay or cancel shifts at the last minute.
Workers have also allegedly had their employment ended after falling ill at work or taking time off to care for sick relatives. One employee said she suffered from a panic attack due to the pressure and asked to be moved to another department. The management later reportedly decided to end her assignment at the warehouse.
Global logistics giant XPO, which runs the distribution centre, denied the allegations. It said workers are paid for every minute worked and that the company works to ensure a “best-in class and safe working environment”.
“There have been a number of allegations about the working conditions at our warehouse in Barnsley that are inaccurate, misleading or based on out of date information,” a spokesperson for Asos told The Independent.
“This upsets us, but more importantly, it upsets the people who work there. Those who seek to portray the warehouse as an awful place to work never mention the positive work we do in conjunction with XPO, like the 50 different learning and development programmes offered, free mental health support and awareness training, subsidised food in a newly renovated canteen, or the £3m spent on a cooling system to keep the temperature down during the summer,” the company added.
Employment law partner at Gannons solicitors, Matt Gingell, said: “Of course individuals’ rights will depend on a number of things such as whether they are classified as workers or employees, and the contractual arrangements in place. Irrespective of legal considerations though, businesses ought to provide reasonable and fair working conditions – and if they don’t, their reputations will suffer as a result.”
GMB regional secretary, Neil Derrick, said the Buzzfeed investigation shows that employment at Asos is both stressful and exploitative as well as being hazardous to workers’ health. “Health and safety issues, round the clock, in-your-face surveillance, impossible targets and unfair contracts have created a damaging, anxiety-ridden workplace and our members have been under the cosh for too long,” he said in a statement.
In June, The Independent reported that over 4,000 workers at the Asos distribution centre in Yorkshire were subject to constant CCTV surveillance and daily security searches.
Following the recent discovery concerning the bad treatment of Sports Direct employees, as well as concerns within other companies, employee practices are now under growing scrutiny. The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee said in a 37-page-report that the retailer was treating workers as “commodities” rather than human beings.
The Unite union has previously said that flexible workers in particular are vulnerable to exploitation in any industry, including retail, transport and the service industry.
“There is no access to justice. Even though on paper you may be regarded as an employee and able to access, if indeed you can afford it, the employment tribunal system, the reality is, for most zero-hour workers and short-hour workers, you are simply denied work if you raise a grievance or raise a concern with your employer” Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of Unite, said at the Sports Direct hearing in June.
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