Roughly 300 out of 1,400 employees in a Coventry fulfillment center walked out in protest over pay increases that Amazon introduced last summer.
In August 2022, Amazon increased hourly starting pay by a range of 35 to 50 pence (43 to 62 cents) based on location, to a new minimum ranging between 10.50 pounds and 11.45 pounds ($12.95 to $14.12). Wage increases would be between 3.15 percent and 5 percent—both well below the U.K.’s consumer price inflation rate of 9.2 percent in December.
Warehouse workers are calling on the company to pay a minimum of 15 pounds ($18.60) an hour, which would surpass April’s expected nationwide minimum wage increase to 10.42 pounds ($12.91).
GMB, a U.K. trade union with more than 500,000 members that represents roughly 350 Amazon workers at the Coventry site, held an industrial action ballot in December. According to GMB, more than 98 percent of workers that voted approved the decision to strike. In total, 178 people voted to strike, according to Amazon.
The successful strike ballot was the second held in 2022, after a first attempt earlier in the year failed to breach the threshold of 50 percent of members needed to authorize industrial action.
“Today, Amazon workers in Coventry will make history,” said Stuart Richards, senior organizer, GMB, in a statement provided to Sourcing Journal. “They’ve defied the odds to become the first ever Amazon workers in the U.K. to go on strike. They’re taking on one of the world’s biggest companies to fight for a decent standard of living. They should be rightly proud of themselves. After six months of ignoring all requests to listen to workers’ concerns, GMB urges Amazon UK bosses to do the right thing and give workers a proper pay rise.”
The demand for a better raise comes amid plenty of other criticisms launched at the Big Tech firm regarding its treatment of employees. Darren Westwood and Garfield Hilton, two workers at the facility who are members of the GMB, even told BBC that the warehouse’s robots “are treated better than us.”
A report from local outlet CoventryLive said members of the GMB union were set up on the picket line outside the Amazon fulfillment center, approaching cars to dissuade colleagues from entering the plant.
This strike may be a preview of things to come. Through a petition via online fundraising platform Crowdfunder, GMB said further strike dates will be announced “in the coming weeks.”
An Amazon spokesperson downplayed the wider impact of the walkout, telling Sourcing Journal that only a “tiny proportion” of its 75,000 workforce in the U.K. is involved in the strike. The spokesperson said that “only a fraction of 1 percent of our U.K. employees” voted in the ballot, including those who voted against organizing.
“We appreciate the great work our teams do throughout the year and we’re proud to offer competitive pay which starts at a minimum of between £10.50 and £11.45 per hour, depending on location,” the spokesperson said. “This represents a 29 percent increase in the minimum hourly wage paid to Amazon employees since 2018. Employees are also offered comprehensive benefits that are worth thousands more—including private medical insurance, life assurance, subsidized meals and an employee discount, to name a few.”
While this is officially the first legally mandated strike against Amazon in the U.K., warehouses in the country have seen employee walkouts since the news of the pay raise last summer. Employees at Amazon distribution centers in Coventry, Tilbury and Bristol all walked out in August without a formal ballot.
On Black Friday, hundreds of GMB union members staged strikes throughout a number of Amazon warehouses, including Coventry. GMB was one of a coalition of unions and advocacy groups that coordinated walkouts during the shopping extravaganza across more than 30 countries under a campaign called “Make Amazon Pay.”
A sticking point for GMB in its argument for unionization across Amazon has been the e-commerce giant’s low tax rate in comparison to its income. Amazon UK Services Limited, the company’s warehouse and logistics operation in the market, reported that it paid 10.8 million pounds ($13.3 million) in tax in 2021, despite recording a pre-tax profit of 204 million pounds ($252 million).
The action in the U.K. comes as Amazon is currently laying off more than 18,000 workers worldwide in an attempt to dial back some of the expansion it undertook during Covid-19. Amazon is also reshuffling its industrial real estate, shuttering three warehouses in the U.K. in 2023 and opening two new ones over the next three years.
Unionization efforts by workers at various warehouses in the U.S. brought further attention to shifting worker sentiment against Amazon and its business practices, with a victory in Staten Island, N.Y. seen as a significant moment for the U.S. labor movement. Prior to the win at the “JFK8” facility, Amazon had previously fended off all attempt by workers in the U.S. to organize.
The Amazon Labor Union (ALU) has been a thorn in Amazon’s side since the successful organization effort, as the tech titan cannot make unilateral changes to working conditions at JFK8 without consulting the union first.
When a fire burned at the N.Y. warehouse in October, more than 650 employees stopped work for nearly three hours after being told to report back. While more than 50 workers were suspended as a result of the protest, the actions continue to keep Amazon and related concerns about worker safety front and center in the public eye.