Former Amazon worker plans to sue employer after suffering ‘agonising’ back pain

Rhys Owen outside Amazon's Milton Keynes base. Pictures by Steve Finn.
Rhys Owen outside Amazon's Milton Keynes base. Pictures by Steve Finn.
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A former Amazon worker is suing the internet giant after suffering agonising back pain which made him ‘middle-aged’ before his time.

Rhys Owen, 21, landed a £7 per hour Christmas job at the American company’s Milton Keynes warehouse, but claims the punishing target-driven work has left him needing up to five painkillers a day and unable to bend down to tie his laces.

“My target was to pick a minimum of 110 items per hour, or approximately 1.8 items per minute, to pick at least 1,100 items per day,” he said.

“Then one day at the end of my second week, I got a bad back and went up to one of the managers to tell him that it was really hurting as I went to reach for things.

“Everyone is rushing round and rushing harder just to reach the targets. There were people there with blisters on their feet and there was a woman of 45 I worked with and her feet were bleeding.

“Virtually everyone there is a temp. They can fire people at will if they are not reaching their targets.

“It was the beginning of my third week that my back went badly wrong after I’d been told that I was not hitting my targets by someone from the agency.

“As a result, I tried even harder during my third week to hit my targets and early on Monday I noticed my back was starting to hurt more. It felt under increased physical strain.

“I was now experiencing sharp stabbing pains in my lower back and I struggled to stand up after bending down to collect items from bins.

“I was obviously in pain and once again went to see one of my managers and he put me on ‘hot picks’ – tracking down missing items which involved less bending.

“When I went into work on Tuesday I asked about doing the ‘hot picks’ again, but I was told I had to go back to regular picking. I was bending over to pick an item from the bottom shelf when my back went completely.

“I was in so much pain I had to be helped by a colleague, who I believe was one of the company ambassadors, back to the managers’ area and they sent me home and gave me a warning.

“I’ve not played football since and even find tying my laces agony, so I just slip my trainers on and leave the laces.

“I was told to get a fitness to work note off my GP, but he would not issue one. Then I got a call from the agency advising me that if I failed to return to work my contract of employment would be terminated.”

Andrew Lilley, from JMW Solicitors in Manchester, who have taken on Mr Owen’s case, said: “The conditions that our client has described to us are a great cause for concern.

“As well as affecting an individual’s immediate well-being, if such conditions are proven to exist at Amazon’s fulfilment centres, they could lead to longer term physical problems and greater injuries.

“It appears from what we have been told that the working conditions Rhys faced during his brief time at Amazon’s fulfilment centre have caused him the sort of repetitive strain-related back injury we’d expect to see in someone approaching middle age, which does send the signal that something isn’t right with the working environment.

“Rhys is entirely entitled to make a claim for his injury and I look forward to helping him get the compensation he deserves.”

A spokesman for Amazon said: “We wouldn’t wish to comment on individual members of our workforce.”