'Union spies' | Amazon removes controversial job listings

Amazon removes controversial job listings

It has been reported that the online retail giant Amazon has taken down two job adverts for ‘intelligence analysts’ which stated the new positions would involve reporting on union activity among workers.

The job advertisement for a role based in Phoenix shared that the successful candidate would be able to inform stakeholders on ‘sensitive topics’ including any labour organising threats to the business.

According to the BBC, the listing read: “Analysts must be capable of engaging and informing... stakeholders on sensitive topics that are highly confidential, including labour organising threats against the company.”

It also detailed that previous experience such as “officer in the intelligence community, the military, law enforcement, or a related global security role in the private sector”, would be desired for the role.

Yet, in a statement to the BBC, Amazon claimed that the wording “was not an accurate description of the role” and had since been corrected. However, new versions of the adverts have not appeared.

Instead, when searching for the pages, the BBC said it threw up an error message stating that the content had disappeared.

The firm suggested that it was standard practice for large businesses to employ people to carry such activities, but Amazon later added: “The job post was not an accurate description of the role – it was made in error and has since been corrected.”

‘Spying on employees’

Amazon has been accused of spying on staff, plus this latest job ad implies labour spying. A previous report from the Open Markets Institute suggested that the organisation used ‘security cameras integrated with sophisticated Artificial Intelligence to monitor and track employee movements’.

It also implied that the item scanners ‘also count of the number of seconds between each task assigned to the worker’. However, in response to this Amazon claimed that performance expectations are the norm in many businesses, which allows the firm to support those who are underperforming.

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“Like most companies, we have performance expectations for every Amazonian – whether they're a corporate employee or fulfilment centre associate – and we measure actual performance against those expectations,” Amazon told the BBC.

“Associate performance is measured and evaluated over a long period of time as we know that a variety of things could impact the ability to meet expectations in any given day or hour. We support people who are not performing to the levels expected with dedicated coaching to help them improve,” the firm added.

What does UK law state?

Spying by companies on union activities has been illegal in the US since the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, however, what does potential spying like this mean for employees based in the UK?

According to Jeremy Coy, Associate at law firm Russell-Cooke, the indication made by Amazon to spy on worker unions could breach their privacy rights as employees. If an employer was to introduce something of a similar manner in the UK, he shared that they would need to inform staff on the decision.

“Amazon’s apparent proposal to observe their employees covertly while at work could breach their data protection and privacy rights, unless there is a lawful justification. It will be rare for such covert monitoring of workers to be justified. In most cases, employees would need to be informed that monitoring is taking place which may of course defeat the purpose,” he told HR Grapevine.

“Monitoring without any prior warning should only be used in exceptional circumstances such as a criminal investigation, on a strictly targeted basis and for a limited period of time.

“Employers who would like to keep tabs on their employees need to be mindful also of the risk that such action could amount to a breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence that exists between them and their employees,” Coy added.

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