Dickensian, degrading, dangerous: Staff criticise conditions at Kettering warehouse

The Wincanton distribution centre
The Wincanton distribution centre

A group of pickers at a Kettering warehouse have hit out at their ‘Dickensian’ working conditions.

Staff at the Wincanton site near the north Kettering business area say they are regularly threatened and refused breaks because they’ve not hit unrealistic targets.

The Northants Telegraph met 10 workers – who did not want to be named for fear of being sacked – who alleged that it is a dangerous place to work with poor health and safety procedures.

One picker said it was a ‘miracle’ that nobody had been involved in a fatal incident there, but Wincanton says it has received no complaints regarding employee safety or wellbeing.

The worker said: “All of us are expected to pick items that are 30kg by ourselves and that’s bloody heavy.

“There’s items like big mattresses, they can’t be lifted by one person.

“But they said if you can’t lift then we’re no good to them.

“It’s a dangerous place to work.

“There’s been a lot of accidents and a few weeks ago the air ambulance was called because someone fractured their pelvis.

“They put it down as a near miss.

“It’s a miracle that someone hasn’t died working there yet.”

The group also claims that that staff are denied tea breaks if they’ve not hit unrealistic targets - partly because their equipment isn’t working properly.

One member said: “We work on a system where we use Wi-Fi to pick items but the signal is terrible.

“How are we supposed to hit targets if we can’t even see what we’re supposed to be getting to put in the cage?

“We have to report to managers for our tea breaks but they say we haven’t picked enough to have one.

“We have no voice and it’s unfair.”

Another said managers expect them to perform like world class athletes.

He said: “They think we’re athletes like Usain Bolt or [Justin] Gatlin or something.

“They want us to pick 60 items an hour but the warehouse is a quarter of a mile long from end to end.

“There’s no way anybody could do it at that pace.”

Between 700 and 800 people work at the Wincanton site, but 400 more staff could move from a sister site at Magna Park in Lutterworth by the end of the year.

It’s understood that about 35 people left their role at the Kettering site in one week last month.

The concerned workers say they are regularly sworn at and threatened, and that it’s like ‘working in the early 1900s’.

Another picker said: ““We are constantly bullied beyond belief.

“Everyone is looking for jobs, people are leaving left right and centre.

“We are working really hard and they just don’t see it.

“We ask to go for a toilet break and they don’t believe us.

“One person was followed to the toilet. It’s degrading.

“It’s like working in the Dickensian era or the early 1900s.”

The group added that their wages are incorrect so often there is a form to fill in when it happens, with one picker alleging they were owed several hours’ pay.

Trade union Unite met workers last week.

A Wincanton spokesman said it takes claims like this ‘incredibly seriously’ but added that no complaints had been made.

The spokesman said: “The safety of our people is our number one priority, and we work hard to ensure that the Kettering site is a safe and fulfilling place to work.

“No complaint has been made to us about employee safety and wellbeing at the Kettering site, and Wincanton has robust policies in place for employees to voice any concerns.

“The site also has an active colleague engagement programme ongoing, which encourages feedback and provides the opportunity for employees to suggest and vote on improvements to the site.

“That being said, we take feedback such as this incredibly seriously, and all incidents of this type that are reported to us are investigated fully.

“The welfare and wellbeing of our employees is always our main consideration.”