Amazon warehouse workers 'make history' with first official UK strike
GMB union demands 45% pay rise as members struggle with cost of living
Some Brits at least have never been afraid to strike – and the wave of industrial action hitting various sectors over the crushing cost of living has found its way over to Amazon for the first time in the UK.
The strike among workers at a Coventry warehouse today stems from a 50p-an-hour pay rise (5 percent) to £10.50 ($12.92) back in summer, which has widely been described as "insulting" and "derisory" after staff continued to work through a pandemic that contributed significantly to Amazon's coffers.
But otherwise it is a protest against the same nightmarish scenarios heard from Amazon workers across the globe: grueling shifts, constant micromanagement and surveillance, and punishment if strict time frames are not met.
Some 300 of 1,500 staff are taking part in the balloted strike, all of them in the GMB union, a general trade union with almost 500,000 members, though reports from the picket line suggest others are unwilling to cross. It is understood that 98 percent of members voted in favor of action.
GMB senior organizer Stuart Richards said in a statement:
Today, Amazon workers in Coventry will make history. They've defied the odds to become the first ever Amazon workers in the UK to go on strike. They're taking on one of the world's biggest companies to fight for a decent standard of living. They should be rightly proud of themselves. After six months of ignoring all requests to listen to workers' concerns, GMB urges Amazon UK bosses to do the right thing and give workers a proper pay rise.
The demand from GMB is a 45 percent raise to £15 ($18.46), which appears to be highly optimistic, but staff have argued that they are struggling to make ends meet without signing up for 60-hour work weeks. However, Amazon does not bend to union pressure easily, as seen in the States, and refuses to recognize GMB.
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Speaking from the picket line to BBC Radio 4 this morning, senior organizer Amanda Gearing said: "They should be listening to their workers and their workers are asking them to give them better pay, terms and conditions and get around the table with the union."
Referring to the salary demands, she said: "They just can't live on that, I'm afraid. £15 would mean that they are able to pay their bills. We've got the biggest cost of living crisis in decades and people are having to choose between heating their homes and eating. It's not good enough. Not from someone like Amazon that got billions and billions of pounds of profits during the pandemic."
As for whether the strike would catch on in other Amazon UK locations, she said: "Coventry might be the start of it but it won't be the finish. We think people are watching on. We know there are workers at other centers that feel exactly the same and they are just waiting to see what happens."
In any case, the ecommerce giant is not worried, saying in a statement:
A tiny proportion of our workforce is involved. In fact, according to the verified figures, only a fraction of 1 percent of our UK employees voted in the ballot – and that includes those who voted against industrial action.
We appreciate the great work our teams do throughout the year and we're proud to offer competitive pay which starts at a minimum of between £10.50 and £11.45 per hour, depending on location. This represents a 29 percent increase in the minimum hourly wage paid to Amazon employees since 2018.
Employees are also offered comprehensive benefits that are worth thousands more – including private medical insurance, life assurance, subsidized meals and an employee discount, to name a few.
Meanwhile, the pandemic boost afforded to Amazon has proved short-lived. The company began laying off 18,000 workers worldwide last week after overexpanding and to prepare for potential recession. Earlier this month it also ran a consultation with a view to shuttering three UK sites, employing 1,200 people not included in the 18,000 figure, Amazon said. ®