For consumers across the world, Amazon Prime day means snapping up discounted products that can be in their hands within 24 hours.
But for many of Amazon’s own workforce, it’s another reminder of the constant pressure for productivity at pace that’s required for the multi-million pound company to make its eye-watering profits.
“I hate Prime Day,” said Darren Westwood, who has worked at Amazon’s Coventry warehouse for four years.
“I know somewhere in a warehouse in this country there’s someone getting a warning because their stuff isn’t going out quick enough.
“Some of the pressure people are put under now is cruel. They don’t need to put their staff under this pressure to get stuff out the door, they don’t need even more profit.”
Westwood and around 900 other employees at the Coventry warehouse walked out 11 July to coincide with Amazon Prime Day. The three-day strike will bring them to a total of 22 strike days since workers first walked out in January as they push for a £15 minimum wage and better working conditions.
“My reasons [for striking] to start with were just about money”, Westwood told The Big Issue. “We want £15 an hour. We think that’s fair, overall. It’s not excessive in this day and age. That gives people enough to pay their bills and have a little bit left over to take your family on holiday. And it’s money that would be circulated back into the economy.”
Working conditions have also been an issue. Staff told The Big Issue the temperature in the warehouse could reach dangerous levels, but Amazon insisted the average temperature held at 22 degrees Celsius, with a “solitary spike” up to 26 degrees.
Other complaints include timed toilet breaks and a building which is “falling apart”. An Amazon spokesperson told The Big Issue the warehouse is “state of the art”, but did not address toilet breaks.
Since last summer, workers at Amazon warehouses across the UK have been joining union GMB in an effort to force Amazon to increase rates of pay. Employees in Coventry have been at the forefront of the fight, with around 1,000 workers joining the union in a bid to force the company to officially recognise it. This would make the BHX4 warehouse Amazon’s first unionised workplace in the UK.
But the retailer has been accused by GMB of union-busting: hiring nearly 1,000 new employees to prevent the union from reaching the membership threshold needed to force recognition.
“It’s vile behaviour”, said Westwood. “We deserve to have a union. If Amazon wins this, this is the template for every employer. And that scares me.”
An Amazon spokesperson denied that new recruits were brought in to sabotage unionising efforts, and told the Big Issue: “At Amazon, we regularly recruit new team members, across the country and across the year, providing great new career opportunities for thousands of people and to meet customer demand. This year is no different.”
Another striking employee, Sam (not his real name), told the Big Issue: “We are living like we are homeless, we are living like we are struggling every day, and we are working for a very very rich company.
“I work very hard for them, I am always giving them 100% but what they are giving us isn’t even enough to survive”.
He described the picket line outside the warehouse as “calm” and “peaceful”. Police officers have attended the lines where reports of 500-600 Amazon workers have gathered each morning for two hours to wave banners and rally support.
“Being on the picket line is to show our employers that we are really in pain, nobody wants to come there, but we are going because we need something better for our lives and our families,” Sam continued.
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