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September 2, 2021updated 17 Mar 2022 5:59pm

55,000 new jobs at Amazon: Boost for Project Kuiper space comms

By Eric Johansson

Amazon is set to fill 55,000 new jobs in a push to strengthen its tech and corporate capabilities, including for its space initiative Project Kuiper.

The ecommerce giant’s new CEO Andy Jassy made the announcement in his first interview since taking over from founder Jeff Bezos in July.

Jassy told Reuters filling the 55,000 jobs would give the $1.7tn goliath the firepower to keep up with skyrocketing demand across different verticals, including retail, cloud and advertising.

An undetermined number of the new hires would also be boosting Project Kuiper, Amazon’s space subsidiary. Project Kuiper is gearing up to launch a network of satellites to provide broadband access around the world. The project is similar to SpaceX’s Starlink project.

Jassy made the announcement about the new roles ahead of Amazon’s annual job fair, scheduled to begin on 15 September.

“There are so many jobs during the pandemic that have been displaced or have been altered, and there are so many people who are thinking about different and new jobs,” said Jassy, citing a US survey from PwC that 65% of workers wanted a new gig.

The 55,000 new Amazon jobs would represent a 20% increase in its tech and corporate staff, who currently number around 275,000 globally. The new jobs include engineering, research science and robotics roles, postings that are largely new to the company rather than jobs others quit, Amazon said. Still, it’s unclear how many of these roles were previously advertised.

Of the Amazon jobs, over 40,000 will be in the US while the rest will be in countries such as India, Germany and Japan.

Notably, the new Amazon roles won’t be delivery or warehouse jobs, which have famously high turnover. Despite hiring 350,000 people for warehouse roles between July and October 2020, staff turnover rate was so high that executives were worried about running out of new people to hire, according to media reports.

The high turnover is one of the reasons why Amazon is facing heightened scrutiny over its labour practices and opposition by labour unions and regulators. In April, Amazon defeated an attempt to unionise workers at a warehouse in Alabama.

Despite bashing the labour movement, the fight highlighted warehouse and delivery workers’ excruciating workload, with some being reduced to having to urinate in plastic bottles or risk unfulfilling their quota.

“Amazon is also regularly criticised for unsafe and unfair working conditions,” a recent GlobalData thematic research report noted. “Spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic, Amazon’s warehouse workers are uniting to tackle issues such as the company’s failure to provide enough protective equipment and the inadequate compensation given to frontline workers.”

Subsequently, Bezos said Amazon needed a better vision for employees. In the months since, Amazon has launched a smattering of initiatives aimed at making warehouse jobs more palatable. Those include the AmaZen mental health box, which was essentially a small cubicle where workers could recharge. Netizens quickly took to social media to chastise the “scream boxes” as they were dubbed. Amazon eventually pulled the AmaZen announcement from Twitter.

Recognising these challenges, Jassy said its heavy focus on customers and inventiveness set it up to improve workers’ situations.

“Everybody at the company has the freedom – and really, the expectation – to critically look at how it can be better and then invent ways to make it better.”

Jassy added Amazon has been “very competitive on the compensation side.”

“We’ve led the way in the $15 minimum wage,” and for some states on average that “really, the starting salary is $17 an hour,” the Amazon chieftain said.

Over at some of its UK locations meanwhile, Amazon is now offering a £50 weekly bonus for permanent staff who turn up to work on time. The incentive, aimed at meeting summer and Christmas demand, comes on the heels of a £1,000 joining bonus being advertised for new warehouse workers.

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