Amazon.com takes over its homepage to advertise for menial labour

Work for us in our stifling warehouses for three years and we'll pay a token amount towards your tuition!

The US arm of Amazon has taken over its homepage today with a long letter advertising a new program where if you work in their warehouses, and stay with the company for three years – including possbily living in a caravan to work over Christmas – they will pre-pay "95% of the cost of courses such as aircraft mechanics, computer-aided design, machine tool technologies, medical lab technologies, nursing, and many other fields."

They call it the "career choice program". It's not much from their pocket, since they're actually only offering to pay up to 95 per cent of the cost. They've capped the amount they will give any individual student at $2000 per year for up to four years, and frankly, given so much of Amazon's workforce is seasonal, the number of employees who will actually stay long enough to qualify is likely to be low.

And the caravan thing is for real, although not explicitly linked to the career choice program:

Our seasonal recruiting program called CamperForce – where RVers combine work with camping – has been very successful and much written about in the media.

The move is quite clearly far more PR than genuine offer to low-skilled employees, right down to being posted on the front page of the site – somewhere more often frequented by potential customers than potential employees. It is certainly the case that, when it comes to treatment of their employees, the company could do with some good PR. The last time their warehouses hit the news, beyond puff pieces about the Christmas shopping boom, was the Morning Call's expose of conditions inside the Pennsylvania branch:

"They can get away with it because most workers will take whatever they can get with jobs few and far between," said Catherine Ruckelshaus, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers. "The temp worker is less likely to complain about it and less likely to push for their labor rights because they feel like they don't have much pull or sway with the worksite employer."

Amazon warehouse workers interviewed come from a variety of backgrounds, including construction, small business owners and some with years of experience at other warehouse and shipping operations. Several of them said it was their worst work experience ever.

Amazon's offer doesn't seem quite so enticing set in context.

A portion of Amazon's letter.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.