Amazon workers stage their first UK strike over pay

About 300 employees walk out in Coventry, with some claiming union could call similar strikes elsewhere

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Amazon workers in the UK are staging their first strike on Wednesday in a prolonged wrangle over pay.

About 300 employees at the company's fulfilment centre in Coventry who are members of the GMB union are taking part in the protest action.

Amazon said a “tiny proportion” of its workforce was involved in the walkout and the strike would have no impact on customers. The company does not recognise the union.

Amazon last year increased starting pay by 50 pence to a minimum of between £10.50 and £11.45 ($12.95 to $14.12) an hour.

“They just can’t live on that, I’m afraid, £15 means they would be able to pay their bills,” said GMB senior organiser Amanda Gearing from the picket line on Wednesday.

“We have the biggest cost-of-living crisis in decades and people are having to choose between heating their homes and eating,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“It’s just not good enough, especially somewhere like Amazon, which got billions and billions of profits during the pandemic.”

Ms Gearing said only 45 people were working on Wednesday out of a shift of 300 at the centre, "so it kind of shows you the sense of feeling”.

“People are just not going to be coming into work today because they want Amazon to know they need better pay and conditions, so they need to get around the table,” she added.

She said more people were joining the union “all the time” and wanted to be part of the strike.

“We are turning people away at the picket line and they are joining the union and joining the protest.”

She said the union could call similar strikes at other locations.

Darren Westwood, who said he had been at Amazon for three and a half years, told Reuters the latest pay rise was not enough, as wage growth is behind inflation, which hit a 41-year high of 11.1 per cent last year.

"None of us want to strike," he said ahead of the walkout. "We'd all rather be in the warmth inside than be drinking tea out here in the cold, but it's come to that point now where the cost of living has just gone crazy."

The country's minimum wage, £9.50 an hour, is set to rise to £10.42 in April.

Stuart Richards, GMB senior organiser, said the employees were “taking on one of the world's biggest companies to fight for a decent standard of living”.

"They should be rightly proud of themselves,” he said.

"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."

Britain is facing its worst industrial unrest since Margaret Thatcher's leadership in the early 1980s, with staff in crucial sectors from nurses and ambulance workers to railways, lawyers and teachers going on strike in fights for better pay to deal with surging inflation.

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A representative for Amazon, which employs thousands of workers across its 30 UK warehouses, said it offered "competitive pay".

"A tiny proportion of our workforce are involved," they said of Wednesday's strike.

"In fact, according to the verified figures, only a fraction of 1 per cent 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 per cent 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, subsidised meals and an employee discount, to name a few."

Updated: January 25, 2023, 12:14 PM
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