Amazon and Dollarama warehouses: ‘disposable’ workforce, report laments

After collecting dozens of testimonies from Dollarama and Amazon warehouse workers in the Montreal region, a researcher pulls no punches: These companies are exploiting the vulnerability of new immigrants to maximize their profits.

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“These workers are considered disposable workers,” says Martine D’Amours, a sociologist and associate professor of industrial relations at Laval University.

The study she led, carried out by the Interuniversity and Interdisciplinary Research Group on Employment, Poverty and Social Protection (GIREPS), the Center for Immigrant Workers (CTI) and the Workers’ Association and Employment Agencies (ATTAP), is based on recent statements from 70 warehouse workers: 37 at Dollarama and 33 at Amazon.

Amazon and Dollarama warehouses disposable workforce report laments

Dollarama distribution center in Mont-Royal Screenshot Google Maps

“Inhumane” quotas

“People describe Dollarama’s warehouses as dusty, poorly lit and without enough space to move around,” Ms. D’Amours says. Furthermore, the Amazon model looks wow! It’s well lit, the rooms are bigger, but what they describe to us are the long shifts [10 heures par jour] and, above all, productivity rates that are literally inhumane. We squeeze the lemon and I would even tell you that we try to choose the lemons with the most juice.”

A high proportion of warehouse workers at both companies were born outside of Canada: this applies to 100% of study participants at Dollarama and 85% at Amazon.

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Amazon distribution center in Longueuil Photo Francis Halin

“The pool of people who need to work and are willing to accept these conditions will always be provided [l’arrivée] of people with precarious migration status,” notes Martine D’Amours.

At Dollarama, “the bulk of the warehouse labor is needed […] is outsourced to external agencies,” admits a company spokeswoman, Lyla Radmanovich, without specifying the number of people affected.

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“Dollarama is committed to creating an inclusive, safe and efficient work environment for all employees by adopting consistent routines while continually striving to optimize its operations and processes for continuous improvement,” she adds.

No benefits

The fact is that temporary workers do not receive any social benefits. One of the people interviewed by the study authors was unaware of his right to paid vacation. Another said she sometimes had to leave before the end of her shift, depriving her of income.

The average hourly wage of respondents was $20 at Dollarama and $19 at Amazon, which is in line with the industry average. However, in unionized warehouses like those owned by Metro, Loblaws and Sysco, wages can reach as high as $30 an hour.

The majority of those surveyed said they feared injuries, particularly due to the high pace of work. However, Dollarama and Amazon warehouses are the subject of fewer CNESST complaints than other similar but unionized workplaces.

To explain this surprising situation, the researchers cite the vulnerability of workers at Dollarama and Amazon that would discourage reporting injuries. At Amazon, the problem would be exacerbated by the internal care system AmCare.

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The Caisse is well represented at Dollarama

Ms. D’Amours believes it is primarily up to Dollarama and Amazon to improve workers’ working conditions. “These are successful companies, so you would expect profits to be better redistributed among workers,” she says.

The Caisse de dépôt is Dollarama’s largest shareholder with a nearly 5% stake, currently worth more than $1 billion. The institution does not want to say whether it wants to address the GIREPS relationship with the company.

“Over the years, Dollarama has been open and receptive to our comments and demonstrated a desire to evolve its practices,” Caisse spokesperson Kate Monfette said simply.

In a statement, Amazon spokeswoman Ryma Boussoufa noted that the study’s respondents “represent less than 1% of our employees in Montreal.”

“Amazon does not set fixed quotas in its facilities,” she continues. We prefer to evaluate performance based on realistic expectations that do not pose a threat and also consider the employee’s seniority, the performance of their colleagues and adherence to safe work practices.

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