Amazon offers term-time only contracts to working parents and grandparents

Amazon has announced parents and grandparents working in its warehouses will have the choice to work in term-time only under a new policy.

The new contracts will allow employees with children to take six weeks of holiday in summer and two weeks at Easter and at Christmas in line with school holidays. 

Jane van Zyl, chief executive of charity for working parents and carers Working Families, said the initiative was a positive move for employees’ work/life balance. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: "We know from our research that for parents who work in site-based roles, where remote working isn't possible, term-time working patterns are the most sought-after type of flexible working.  

“It's vital that employers understand that there's much more to flexible working than just remote and hybrid patterns, and it’s great to see a high-profile employer embrace a different way of working that supports the needs of their people.” 

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Steve Herbert, wellbeing and benefits director at insurance advisory firm Partners&, said flexible working is in increasing demand.  

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “Flexible working initiatives are front and centre of the new expectations of workers since the pandemic, and this term-time contracts initiative is therefore a sensible move to make Amazon a more appealing employer from a recruitment and retention point of view.”   

However, Herbert says there are several potential problems with the contracts.  

“If salary payments are not 'smoothed', employees will end up with a very reduced income in some months, and during the summer holidays.   

“This will make family budgeting extremely difficult and add to the financial pressures during school holidays when free school meals may not be available for lower-income families either.”   

Herbert also said employees without childcare commitments may struggle to take popular times off at Christmas and in the summer since their colleagues who have children may be on leave.  

“Not only is this likely to be bad for their health, wellbeing, and family life, but it could also lead directly to some resentment and poor employment relations too,” he said.

Van Zyl also said employees struggling financially during the cost of living crisis need further support from Amazon. 

“Access to flexible working can support a reduction in formal childcare costs, which is vital,” she said. “However, it's just one piece of the puzzle; alongside the Living Wage Foundation, we call for employers to pay workers a real living wage." 

The delivery giant is currently in a pay dispute with staff in Coventry. 

Warehouse staff at Amazon’s site in Coventry have been on strike for 16 days this year, calling for an increase in their hourly wage from £11 to £15 an hour.  

The GMB has been campaigning for better pay and working rights on behalf of the Amazon workers, yet it is not formally recognised by the employer.

Martin Williams, head of employment and partner at law firm Mayo Wynne Baxter, said the announcement of the new term-time working contract is dampened by Amazon’s failures in other areas of employee experience. 

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “Amazon has discovered that because it is a target for criticism due to alleged poor working practices and its operating model, that any attempt to appear flexible is met with calls for better pay, as opposed to praise.” 

GMB said the 800 Coventry employees were now members and that this represents a majority of the workforce in that location. 

Amanda Gearing, GMB organiser, said the term-time contracts could be seen as a way to assuage pay demands. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “It is no surprise that Amazon has discovered flexible working offers after Coventry workers have found their voice and their strength.  

“It's no coincidence that 16 days of strike action have come before this offer. 

“Security and fair pay is what most workers want at a minimum. Getting it is another thing.” 

The GMB has applied to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) for statutory recognition, but the committee could take several weeks to make a decision. 

Gearing said: “The workers are clear – they want their trade union to be recognised. They want a fair pay offer of £15 per hour. In the worst cost of living crisis for a generation, it is only fair. 

“Amazon needs to stop dithering, talk to GMB and recognise us as their workers’ voice.”