Amazon hauled in by ministers over 'Victorian era' conditions

The Scottish Government is to hold talks with online retailer Amazon over 'unacceptable' reports that poorly paid staff have been camping outside its Dunfermline plant, while others are penalised for being ill.

Amazon is under fire over the treatment of staff at its Fife depot. Picture: Alex Hewitt

Economy secretary Keith Brown said he plans to meet the firm later this week as MSPs branded the firm “exploiters, cheats and a throwback to a Victorian era.”

More than £1 million of taxpayers cash was paid to the firm last year in grant assistance for its Fife distribution despite Amazon recording billions of dollars in profit worldwide.

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Mr Brown faced calls from Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie to “rule out” further public cash being paid to the corporate giant in future.

The minister said: “I am concerned about the reports over the weekend and my office has been touch with Amazon, and we are working on establishing a meeting to take place in the next seven days so these issues can be raised.

“Of course these matters are of concern to the Scottish Government, as they would be of concern to anybody. It’s important we do what we can to raise them.”

Mr Brown said the Scottish Government did not have the power to legislate to make employers pay the living wage.

He added: “In the absence of that what we can do is make representations and speak to Amazon and make clear how we find these practices unacceptable, and that’s what will happen over the course of the next few days.”

The cabinet secretary added that there was no outstanding grants, nor any proposals for future grants.

He added: “We have no intention of providing those further grants, not least in the absence of any application.”

Amazon has a global value of £290 billion and made £6 billion in revenues in the UK.

Labour MSP Neil Findlay said the Scottish Government should “call out” firms like Amazon over their working practices.

“These employers need exposed for what they are - they’re exploiters, they’re cheats and they’re a throwback to a Victorian era.”

Mr Brown said ministers will want to continue to look at each grant application “on its merits” in the hope that some firms may be encouraged to pay the living wage, while supporting the general policy of bringing jobs to Scotland.

A spokesman for Amazon last night insisted that it pays competitive wages - with all permanent and temporary Amazon staff start on £7.35 an hour or above regardless of age and £11 an hour and above for overtime.

He added; “Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace with competitive pay and benefits from day one. We are proud to have been able to create several thousand new permanent roles in our UK fulfilment centres over the last five years.”