Employment

Jeff Bezos labelled a Covid-19 ‘super spreader’ over Amazon sick pay policy

As Amazon's business booms and founder Jeff Bezos' wealth grows, workers are taking strike action over its sick pay policy and other Covid-19 measures

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos could cover two weeks’ paid sick leave for all Amazon employees with less than 1 per cent of his personal fortune, new data claims.

Global consumer group SumOfUs estimated that it would cost $1.04 billion (£830 million) for the company’s entire global workforce of 798,000 people to take two weeks’ paid leave — a fraction of the Amazon founder’s $140bn (£112bn) reported net worth.

The claim comes in the week when hundreds of Amazon staff took strike action to protest various issues around the company’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including limited sick pay.

Other concerns include a lack of protective equipment and poor warehouse cleaning practices.

Cases of Covid-19 have been reported in over half of Amazon’s US warehouses, and one worker has already died in California.

Meanwhile, the company is expected to announce record earnings today when it reports its financial results for the first three months of the year. It’s share price has also rocketed by 50 per cent during the pandemic as more people shop online during lockdown. 

Amazon has revised its sick leave policy in light of Covid-19, with workers who test positive for the virus or told to quarantine by a medical professional receiving up to two weeks of paid leave.

However, difficulties in accessing tests coupled with official health guidelines advising people to stay home and self-isolate if they show mild symptoms present challenges to this policy.

Such challenges have resulted in SumOfUs campaigner Vicky Wyatt labelling Bezos — the world’s richest man — a coronavirus “super spreader”.

Wyatt said: Jeff Bezos is the ultimate super spreader. His refusal to offer proper sick pay leaves Amazon employees with no choice but to turn up to work sick.

“Bezos would rather protect his profit margin than his workers. He is raking in $11,000 a second from the safety of his mansion, while warehouse staff and delivery drivers risk their lives to keep his business running.”

Elsewhere, one Amazon employee who this week called in sick as part of a co-ordinated worker protest told The Guardian: “We are calling out because Amazon is putting its revenue above our safety. We are not essential to them – they just think of us as numbers and quotas. They are not protecting our health.”

In a post on Amazon’s blog, the company said: “Our top concern is ensuring the health and safety of our employees and we expect to spend more than $800 million in the first half of the year on COVID-19 safety measures.”

These measures include over 150 process updates – from enhanced cleaning and social distancing measures to new efforts like disinfectant spraying – and the distribution of personal protective gear, such as masks.

The company has also implemented disinfectant spraying and temperature checks across its operations worldwide.

Amazon came under further scrutiny last year when it was revealed the company had paid a total of £220m in direct taxes in the UK — despite revenues from its UK operation amounting to £10.9bn.

It was also revealed that Amazon paid just £61.7m in UK corporation tax over 20 years — less than high street favourite Marks & Spencer paid out in one year alone.

Last week, a damning UN statement on government response to coronavirus highlighted how the virus is hitting the most vulnerable in society the hardest.

The release cited figures that predict over half a billion additional people could be pushed into poverty due to Covid-19, in the face of almost 200 million full-time job losses.

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