Today’s Cache | Amazon axing workforce may not stop with corporate function

Amazon has said it will cut about 1% of its global corporate workforce. But, will that be the end of layoff.

Updated - November 16, 2022 10:38 am IST

Published - November 15, 2022 02:22 pm IST

File photo of the Amazon logo

File photo of the Amazon logo | Photo Credit: AP

(This article is part of Today’s Cache, The Hindu’s newsletter on emerging themes at the intersection of technology, innovation and policy. To get it in your inbox, subscribe here.)

Amazon axing talent may not be limited to its corporate functions. A new addition in its warehouse could mean fewer workers at its fulfilment centres.

(This article is part of Today’s Cache, The Hindu’s newsletter on emerging themes at the intersection of technology, innovation and policy. To get it in your inbox, subscribe here.)

The ecommerce giant on Monday said it would cut roughly 1% of its global workforce. The layoff would largely be in its devices division, it noted. Employees in voice assistant Alexa, retail and human resources departments are said to be affected by the job cuts.

Like other large tech firms that gobbled up talent during the heights of the pandemic, and are now finding it hard to manage their workforce as the economic situation turns uncertain, Amazon too is finding itself in a tough spot. No wonder, it is sharpening its axe to cut talent. But, unlike Twitter, which let go of its employees in an unceremonious way, the global retailer plans to carefully reduce workforce based on individual departmental needs. At the end of that process, about 10,000 people will be gone.

The company currently employs about 1.5 million people. It was one of the biggest recruiters during the pandemic. It nearly doubled its workforce in those two years, and used the profits to expand its business. Now, this planned cut, at a time of the much-anticipated holiday season, reveals the grim reality of the macro-economic situation. If the U.S.-based company’s layoff affects it corporate employees, one of its business decisions could have an impact on its labourers at the fulfilment centres.

On November 10, Amazon introduced a new addition in its centres – a robot that could handle, sort, identify, and store products. The company claims it could do millions of tasks that happen during the pre-packaging phase. The latest robot, called Sparrow, uses AI, computer vision, and a suction-cup to do several tasks. And it could potentially handle 65% of all pre-packaged products available on Amazon’s website, the company said.

Sparrow will join two existing robots in the warehouses – Robin and Cardinal. Together, the trio would take care of pre-packaging, packaging and pre-delivery tasks. Their presence has made some workers worried, according to a report by Business Insider. Since 2012, Amazon has deployed half a million robots. But the company also claims that it has added over a million jobs.

In the case of Sparrow, Amazon claims the robot will be of help to human workers in its fulfilment centre by taking over repetitive and mundane tasks. But critics note that the end may not result in a net positive for labourers. One grassroots activist organisation said that the company should be doing more to provide high-quality jobs and address safety issues in its warehouses. Having robots is only a way to maximise profits at the cost of labour, it noted.

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