Amazon packages move through a conveyor belt at a fulfillment center in England.
Nathan Stirk | Getty Images
Amazon workers go on strike in Britain, marking the first official industrial action in the country for the US tech giant.
The 24-hour strike began a minute after midnight on Wednesday. Strikers are expected to picket outside the company’s site in Coventry, central England, throughout the day. The GMB union, which represents the affected workers, said it expected hundreds of staff to walk out.
Staff are unhappy about a 50 pence (US 56 cents) hourly pay rise, equivalent to 5% and well below inflation. Amazon introduced salary increases last summer. But warehouse workers say that’s not keeping up with the rising cost of living. They want the company to pay at least £15 an hour.
They also want better working conditions. Amazon employees complained about long working hours, as well as aggressive technical control over employees.
A spokesperson for the tech giant told CNBC in a statement that the staff involved make up “just a fraction of 1% of our workforce in the UK”. A spokesman said wages for Amazon warehouse workers in the UK had increased by 29% since 2018 and pointed to a £500 one-off payment to staff to help with the cost of living crisis.
Wednesday’s anti-freedom action was the first legislative strike to take place in the UK. Amazon employees in the UK previously went on spontaneous strike in August and on Black Friday in November.
Darren Westwood, one of the Amazon employees who took part in the strikes, said he had “come a long way” before the day itself, which he described as “historic”.
“We’ve all seen the profits they’re making during the pandemic — it’s made people even angrier,” Westwood told CNBC by phone. “We expected a better increase than what they imposed.”
Inflation has risen sharply due to increased energy costs and disruptions in the supply chain as a result of the war in Ukraine. Consumer prices rose by 10.5% in December compared to the same period last year; in response, the Bank of England raised interest rates to curb rising costs.
Westwood said he and his partner are now in a reasonable financial position. But he worries about other employees, one of whom he says is working 60 hours a week to make mortgage payments.
Wednesday’s action in the UK comes as Amazon is laying off thousands of people around the world. The company began laying off 18,000 workers last week in an attempt to halt some of the expansion it began during the Covid-19 period and prepare for a possible recession in 2023.
Earlier this month, Amazon launched a consultation on closing three of its UK sites, which employ a combined 1,200 people. The move is not part of Amazon’s 18,000 job cuts, the company said.
Amazon has long been criticized for labor shortages, with the company often accused of poor working conditions in warehouses and delivery operations, and of suppressing attempts by employees to unionize. In April, workers at the company’s warehouse in Staten Island, New York, became the first group in the United States to vote to join a union.
“We stand in solidarity with the Amazon workers in Coventry who are fighting for better pay and benefits,” Chris Smalls of the Amazon Workers Union, which founded the union, told CNBC. “It’s time for Amazon, which claims to be the best company on Earth, to sit down at the bargaining table and bargain in good faith with its unions.”