Employment

As Amazon Prime Day pushes the latest deals, these striking workers want a share of the profits

Low pay, accusations of union-busting, and "cruel" pressure to work harder and faster has pushed hundreds of Amazon workers to strike during Prime Week

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.”

Amazon has sought to counteract unionising activities by displaying its own messages on screens in communal areas. Image: Supplied

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. 

Striking workers and police officers on the picket line outside Amazon’s Coventry warehouse. Image: GMB

“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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“This is a multimillion company, and it isn’t supporting people. We are making so much benefit for them, but they are not sharing the benefits with us.”

Workers at Amazon are paid a minimum of £11 an hour, 58p above the national minimum wage for people aged over 23 (£10.42). They are seeking a pay rise to £15. 

Last summer Amazon promised its employees a pay rise, which amounted to between 35 and 50p per hour for most employees, when inflation was already hitting 9.4 per cent in June. This sparked a wave of wildcat strikes at multiple warehouses, with workers saying it wasn’t enough to cope with rising cost of living. 

“Amazon promised this pay rise which materialised into pennies, and they were expecting pounds,” said Rachel Fagan, GMB senior organiser. 

“Prime Week can see Amazon rake in as much as £2 billion in sales. It’s grotesque that in this context they’re denying low paid workers here in the UK the right to a wage that pays the bills.”  

She said the strike action would “have a huge impact on Amazon’s Prime Week operation”.

An Amazon spokesperson told the Big Issue: “There will be no disruption to customers. Our Coventry site does not directly serve customer orders.”

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