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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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

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.

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