Employment

Amazon wildcat strikes enter second week as UK workers protest over pay

At least eight Amazon warehouses have been hit by protests as workers demand a higher pay rise.

Trade unionists have voiced their support for Amazon workers involved in the protests. Image: United Voices of the World

Unofficial wildcat strikes at Amazon warehouses across the UK have entered their second week as workers get creative in their fight for better pay.

The ‘wildcat’ or unofficial strikes, which are free of union involvement, were started by workers at the Tilbury warehouse on Thursday last week. The protests soon spread and workers in at least eight warehouses have now taken action.

It includes “slowdown work” campaigns in at least five warehouses, where workers process just one package an hour to ensure they are still paid.

The protests are in response to Amazon telling workers it would be raising wages by 35p to 50p, “to a minimum of between £10.50 and £11.45p/h, depending on location.”

Amazon says that is a 29 per cent increase on the 2018 figure, and that employees also get a “comprehensive benefits package”. But with inflation hitting 9.4 per cent in June, many workers said this wasn’t enough to cope with rising cost of living. They are seeking £2 an hour rise.

Amazon has refused to recognise any union, despite GMB seeking voluntary recognition. The union is seeking to grow its membership to 50 per cent at which point it will be able to apply to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) to force the company to recognise it. This would enable GMB to undertake collective bargaining and legally ballot members for strike action.

The union has this week submitted a formal pay claim to Amazon seeking a £15 an hour minimum wage for all employees at its UK warehouses, though the company is not legally obligated to respond.

A sit-in at the Bristol warehouse restarted again on Wednesday when around 150 employees went to the canteen instead of their posts. The sit-in continued into Thursday. 

Speaking to the Big Issue, one employee said: “We got paid for the protests last week, but we were told we wouldn’t get paid for it yesterday, but we didn’t really care. We knew we wouldn’t get paid because we were logged out. People on their day off came to sit with us in solidarity, that’s how strongly we feel.”

The employee said as they have no children or dependents they can afford to lose some days of pay to strike, but not everyone can.

“(Amazon) knows that people can’t afford not to get paid… If we’re not getting paid I don’t know how long people can keep it up.

“I was talking to a guy yesterday who was crying because he works at Amazon but he’s going to a food bank to provide for his family. The money we earn is enough just for one person, not if you have a family.”

A fence has been constructed around the perimeter of the Bristol warehouse this week. “The fact that they’re building the fences… they’re actually scared of us. They know we are powerful,” the worker continued. 

The employee is not a member of any union and called GMB’s campaign for a £15 minimum wage “unrealistic”. “People are asking for two pounds (more an hour), but I would be happy with a 10 per cent increase, that’s £1 extra,” they continued. 

Employees at a warehouse in Rugeley are also taking action. On Thursday they held banners saying: “Overworked” as they staged a walk-out in the canteen.

Unofficial strikes have also continued at the Swindon warehouse, GMB regional organiser David McMullen told the Big Issue, with around 100 people refusing to work on Wednesday. 

“These aren’t GMB wildcat strikes, we’ve not encouraged it,” he clarified. “Workers have taken this decision on their own initiative for wildcat strikes, and we’ve reacted off the back of that.”

Anger has mounted among the protesting workers, in part fueled by managers’ response. As employees staged a sit-in at the company canteen, one manager told them their behaviour was “like animals”, sparking outrage and forcing an apology.

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“That isn’t acceptable terminology in any situation,” said McMullen, who said the protests are about more than just pay. 

“He’s issued a statement to try and clarify it, however it is just very indicative of how Amazon treats their employees. Our campaign through GMB has always been to say ‘we are not robots’,” he said.

“There will come a point when the cost of industrial action outweighs the cost of actually paying people a decent wage and they will realise that.”

Multiple unions have voiced their support for the Amazon workers, including Unite and United Voices of the World, both of which have members at several Amazon warehouses. 

“UVW stands in full solidarity with all the brave Amazon workers taking action in their fight for a fair deal at work,” said spokesperson for union.

“Employers are offering below inflation pay rises to drive down our wages, which are being eroded by inflation. We need to stand up for ourselves and let the bosses know we’re not going to accept this transfer of wealth to the rich. We encourage all low-paid workers to join us so we can stand together and fight back with all tools at our disposal.”

An Amazon spokesperson said: “Starting pay for Amazon employees will be increasing to a minimum of between £10.50 and £11.45p/h, depending on location.

“This represents a 29 per cent increase in the minimum hourly wage paid to Amazon associates since 2018.

“On top of this, employees are offered a comprehensive benefits package that includes private medical insurance, life assurance, income protection, subsidised meals, an employee discount and more, which combined are worth thousands of pounds annually, as well as a company pension plan.”

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