Amazon packages move on a conveyor belt at a logistics center in England.
Nathan Stirk | Getty Images
Amazon Workers are on strike in Britain in what marks the US tech giant’s first formal industrial action in the country.
The 24-hour strike action began a minute after midnight on Wednesday. Strikers are expected to picket outside the company’s premises in Coventry in central England throughout the day. The GMB union, which represents the affected workers, said it expected hundreds of workers to turn out for the strike.
Employees are unhappy with a pay increase of 50 pence (56 US cents) per hour, which is 5% and well below inflation. Amazon introduced the wage increase last summer. But warehouse workers say it doesn’t do justice to the rising cost of living. They want the company to pay at least £15 an hour.
They also want better working conditions. Amazon employees have complained of long hours and aggressive, tech-enhanced employee surveillance.
A spokesman for the tech giant told CNBC in a statement that the employees involved represent “just a fraction of 1% of our UK workforce”. The spokesman said wages for Amazon’s UK warehouse workers have risen by 29% since 2018 and pointed to a one-off £500 payment to employees to help with the cost of living crisis.
Wednesday’s action against the Frim is the first legally mandated strike in Britain. Amazon’s UK employees previously spontaneously suspended work in August and on Black Friday in November.
Darren Westwood, one of the Amazon workers involved in the strikes, said it was “a long way” to the day itself, which he described as “historic”.
“We’ve all seen the profits they’re making during the pandemic — that upset people more,” Westwood told CNBC via phone call. “We expected a better increase than they implied.”
Inflation has skyrocketed due to increased energy costs and supply chain disruptions due to the war in Ukraine. Consumer prices rose 10.5% yoy in December; In response, the Bank of England has raised interest rates to curb rising costs.
Westwood said that for now, he and his partner are in a reasonable financial position. But he worries about other employees, one of whom he said was working 60 hours a week to make mortgage payments.
Wednesday’s action in the UK comes as Amazon has to lay off thousands worldwide. The company began laying off 18,000 employees last week to scale back some of the expansion it had undertaken during the Covid-19 period and prepare for a possible recession in 2023.
Earlier this month, Amazon launched a consultation to close three of its UK sites, which employ a total of 1,200 people. The move isn’t part of Amazon’s 18,000 job cuts, according to the company.
Amazon has long been criticized for labor shortages, with the company often being accused of poor working conditions in its warehouses and delivery operations and stifling attempts by employees to unionise. In April, workers at the company’s Staten Island warehouse in New York became the first group in the United States to vote to join a union.
“We stand in solidarity with the Amazon workers of Coventry who are fighting for higher wages and benefits,” Chris Smalls of the Amazon Labor Union, which founded the union, told CNBC. “It’s about time Amazon, which claims to be the best company in the world, came to the table and negotiated in good faith with its unions.”