Working in a bol.com distribution centre is no laughing matter, although the situation is not as bad as in its American counterparts. Most disconcerting of all may be the consumer's shameless abuse of the webshop's relaxed return policies.
Jeroen van Bergeijk, a journalist for Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, has spent five weeks under cover in bol.com's fulfilment centre managed by Ingram Micro in Waalwijk (in the Netherlands, near the Belgian border; the distribution centre in question is not the one seen in the picture – ed.). He first worked in the returns department, then as an order picker. He became curious when he heard harrowing stories about the working conditions in Amazon's American and British warehouses, where workers are afraid to take a toilet break because it might cost them penalty points. In Waalwijk the situation is nowhere near that bad, but pressure is high and the rules are strict. Most employees do not complain however because as migrant workers, they can earn more than at home. Nevertheless, employees come and go at a high rate.
Van Bergeijk claims he wanted to know what would happen if you decided at 11:55 pm you really needed a vacuum cleaner, and then send it back again. What he experienced in the returns department is disconcerting: he is shocked by the customers' abuse of bol.com's loose return policies: "I encountered vacuum cleaners with full bags, sanding machines covered in layers of dust or a leaf blower in a box with autumn leaves fluttering out." A co-worker saw a suitcase with an airline label attached to it and a pair of dirty socks inside...
Demand for flexibility
Bol.com does not deny it demands much of their employees: "Working in the peak season requires a lot of flexibility," says Ingram Micro's Jos Goedhart, who manages the warehouse. "Consumer's buying behaviour is fickle and we have to adapt to that because our promise is: place your order today, receive your order the same or the next day. Dutch agency workers have a social life, commitments to sports clubs or a fixed night to spend with the kids... Eastern European and Southern European agency workers do not care if they have to work on Thursday or on Friday evening, or whether they will be home at ten or at twelve o' clock. There is more flexibility with the others."
According to bol.com, the pressure on the workers has not really increased in the past few years. The long days faced mostly by migrant workers are due to work shortage and unpredictable sales.