On Wednesday, hundreds of Amazon workers in Britain went on strike, marking the first formal industrial action in the country for the tech giant. The 24-hour strike began at a minute after midnight and strikers are expected to picket outside the company’s site in Coventry in central England throughout the day. This historic move by Amazon workers in the UK, is a significant event as it highlights the growing frustration and discontent among the workers towards the tech giant.
The GMB Union, which represents the workers involved, said it expects 300 employees out of a total 1,000 at the plant to turn up to the walkout. Workers are planning to hold a larger scale demonstration from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. London time.
The main demands of the striking workers are better pay and working conditions. They are unhappy with a pay increase of 50 pence (56 U.S. cents) per hour, equivalent to 5%, which was introduced last summer. They want the company to pay a minimum of £15 an hour. This pay increase is seen as inadequate by the workers as it fails to match the rising cost of living, especially with the current inflation rate in the country.
Apart from better pay, the workers also want better working conditions. They have raised concerns about long working hours, high injury rates, and the unrelenting pace of work, as well as aggressive, tech-enhanced monitoring of employees. These conditions have been a long-standing issue for Amazon workers, and the company has been criticized for it in the past.
A spokesperson for the tech giant told CNBC in a statement that the staff involved represent “only a fraction of 1% of our UK employees.” The spokesperson said that pay for Amazon’s U.K. warehouse workers has increased 29% since 2018, and pointed to a £500 one-time payment made out to staff to help with the cost-of-living crisis.
Wednesday’s action against the firm is the first legally mandated strike to take place in the U.K. Amazon’s U.K. staff previously stopped working spontaneously in August and on Black Friday in November. Despite this, the company’s workers have been pushing for formal industrial action for a long time.
The strike is taking place at an interesting time for Amazon. The company is currently laying off thousands of workers worldwide, in an attempt to dial back some of the expansion it undertook during the Covid-19 period and brace for a possible recession in 2023. Earlier this month, Amazon also announced that it would be closing down three of its U.K. sites, where it employs a combined 1,200 people.
The striking workers are also receiving support from various labor organizations and unions. Chris Smalls of Amazon Labor Union, which established the union, said, “We stand in solidarity with the Amazon workers of Coventry fighting for higher pay and benefits. It’s time Amazon, who claims to be Earth’s best company, come to the table and bargain in good faith with its unions.”
Amazon has long been criticized for labor shortcomings, with the company often accused of poor working conditions in its warehouses and delivery operations, and squashing attempts from employees to unionize. In April, staff at the company’s Staten Island warehouse in New York became the first group in the U.S. to vote in favor of joining a union.
The strike by Amazon workers in the UK is a significant event as it highlights the growing frustration and discontent among the workers towards the tech giant. It remains to be seen how Amazon will respond to the demands of the striking workers and if the company will take steps to address the issues that have been raised by the workers.