Amazon packages go on a conveyor belt in a fulfillment center in England.
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Amazon workers go on strike in Britain, a move that marks the first formal union action in the country for the US tech giant.
The 24-hour strike started a minute after midnight on Wednesday. Strikers are expected to peck all day outside the company’s premises in Coventry, central England. The GMB Union, which represents affected workers, said it expects 300 of the factory’s total of 1,000 workers to come to the strike.
The staff is not satisfied with a wage increase of 50 pence (56 US cents) an hour, equal to 5% and well below inflation. Amazon introduced the wage increase last summer. But warehouse workers say it can’t match the rising cost of living. They want the company to pay a minimum of £15 an hour.
They also want better working conditions. Amazon employees have expressed concerns about long hours, high injury rates and the unrelenting pace of work, as well as aggressive technology-enabled employee monitoring.
A spokesperson for the tech giant told CNBC in a statement that the affected workforce represents “only a fraction of 1% of our UK workforce”. The spokesperson said pay for Amazon’s UK warehouse workers has risen 29% since 2018, pointing to a one-off payment of £500 to staff to help with the cost of living crisis.
Striking workers gather around a fire pit on a picket line at Amazon.com Inc.’s fulfillment center on Wednesday, January 25, 2023. in Coventry, UK.
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Wednesday’s action against the fri is the UK’s first legally mandated strike. Amazon’s UK staff previously spontaneously stopped working in August and on Black Friday in November.
Darren Westwood, one of Amazon’s warehouse workers who took part in the strikes, said it was “a long way” to the day itself, which he described as “historic.”
“We all saw the profits they’re making during the pandemic — that’s what pissed people off more,” Westwood told CNBC via a phone call. “We expected a better raise than what they imposed.”
Inflation has soared due to higher energy costs and supply chain disruptions due to the war in Ukraine. Consumer prices rose 10.5% year-on-year in December; in response, the Bank of England raised interest rates to dampen rising costs.
Westwood said he and his partner are in a reasonable financial position for now. But he’s worried about other employees, one of whom he said worked 60 hours a week to meet the mortgage payments.
“Someone recently said we’re being treated like robots — no, robots are being treated better,” Westwood told CNBC.
Wednesday’s action in the UK comes as Amazon is laying off thousands of people worldwide. The company began laying off 18,000 employees last week in an effort to reverse some of the expansion it undertook during the Covid-19 period and brace for a potential recession in 2023.
Earlier this month, Amazon launched a consultation to close three of its UK sites, where it employs a combined workforce of 1,200. The move is not part of Amazon’s 18,000 job cuts, the company said.
Amazon has long been criticized for labor deficiencies, with the company often accused of poor working conditions in its warehouses and delivery operations and crushing employee attempts to join a union. In April, staff at the company’s Staten Island warehouse in New York became the first group in the US to vote in favor of union membership.
“We stand in solidarity with the Amazon workers in Coventry who are fighting for higher wages and benefits,” Chris Smalls of Amazon Labor Union, which founded the union, told CNBC. “It’s time Amazon, which claims to be the best company in the world, comes to the table and negotiates in good faith with its unions.”
Amazon has previously said that its employees have the right to join or not to join a union, but that it does not believe unions are the best choice for its employees.