Amazon workers in the UK staged the first-ever strike against the online giant on Wednesday, protesting over pay and working conditions. Around 300 staff walked out of Amazon’s Coventry warehouse, according to the GMB union, over what they have called a “derisory” 5% pay rise to £10.50 an hour.
Workers have complained about “severe” conditions in the warehouse, claiming that they are constantly monitored and reprimanded for “idle time” as short as a few minutes. Some workers have also said that even taking a trip to the bathroom can lead to questions from managers. The workers also claim that the robots in the warehouse are “treated better than us.”
In response to the strike, Amazon said that it has a system “that recognizes great performance” and “encourages coaching to help employees improve if they are not meeting their performance goals.” But workers claim that managers track staff performance and time not spent scanning items is accrued. They also claim that some colleagues are working 60-hour weeks to keep up with the cost of living.
In August, Amazon offered UK workers a 5% pay rise, which was worth 50p outside London and the South East. However, inflation is at a 40-year high, putting pressure on household budgets. Union members are calling for a pay increase to £15 an hour.
GMB Union senior organizer, Amanda Gearing, said that Wednesday’s strike action would have a “massive impact” on the Coventry warehouse. “Coventry might be the first site to strike, but it won’t be the last,” Gearing said.
Amazon has defended its pay rates and performance management system, stating that it is “proud” of its “competitive” pay rates. The company also said that the starting pay for workers was £11.45 an hour in London and the South East, and £10.50 an hour in the rest of the UK, marking a 29% increase in the minimum hourly wage paid to Amazon employees since 2018.
However, workers argue that Amazon’s profitability and the increased demands during the pandemic make this pay increase insufficient. The strike is expected to continue and expand to other warehouses.
While these issues seem specific to the UK, they’re not. Workers in the U.S. have been complaining for years over their working conditions. Delivery drivers find themselves working late into the night while warehouse workers feel they don’t have time to reach the unrealistic expections placed on them by the company. During the tornado in Kentucky last year, workers were killed when Amazon refused to let employees leave during the emergency.
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