Life and Death in the Warehouse should strike guilt into all next-day delivery junkies

Aimee-Ffion Edwards and Craig Parkinson in Life and Death in the Warehouse - BBC/Simon Ridgway
Aimee-Ffion Edwards and Craig Parkinson in Life and Death in the Warehouse - BBC/Simon Ridgway

Finally, after limping back onto television with so little energy that you wonder why they bothered, BBC Three has a programme to get people talking. Life and Death in the Warehouse is a fictionalised exposé of the hellish working conditions inside Britain’s distribution centres.

If this story had been told even 10 years ago, it would have seemed like dystopian science-fiction. But inside these vast, featureless sites, an army of workers is picking up the packages you ordered online, under conditions that would be described as Orwellian if that wasn’t one of the most over-used descriptors in the English language.

Employees must pick up one item every 30 seconds, directed to the right shelf by a computerised voice on a headset. They cover 15 miles per day. Toilet breaks and “idle time” (pausing at any point between the day’s two official breaks) are monitored on security cameras and timed. All of this is couched in surreal management speak, delivered here by a team leader (Craig Parkinson, with the smarm of a televangelist) and his hateful sidekick (Kimberley Nixon). The downtrodden workers are “associates”, and management warnings to speed up or get sacked are “personal enhancement plans”.

Joseph Bullman, who made the excellent BBC Three film Killed by My Debt, teamed up with writer Helen Black to produce this, based on the testimonies of the workers. The setting is a Welsh community where everyone is desperate for the income that this place provides. The focus is on Megan (Aimee-Ffion Edwards, excellent) as a trainee manager, who initially tries to help a pregnant employee, Alys (Poppy Lee Friar), but within a matter of weeks has fallen in step with the company’s inhumane culture.

That pregnancy ends in a miscarriage after Alys is worked into the ground. This is where the drama lets itself down – there is something queasily sensationalised about the way it is filmed, and the causal links between physical stress and miscarriage are complex. While there have been reports of similar incidents, it feels like a scenario chosen for shock value.

Aside from that, this was an eye-opening drama that should be required viewing for those of us who mindlessly click “next-day delivery”.