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‘Robots are treated higher’: Amazon warehouse staff stage first-ever strike within the UK

Amazon parcels move on a conveyor belt at a logistics center in England.

Nathan Stirk | Getty Images

Hundreds Amazon Workers strike within the UK. The strike marks the US tech giant’s first formal industrial motion within the country.

The 24-hour strike began Wednesday one minute after midnight. Strikers are expected to picket outside the corporate’s headquarters in Coventry, central England throughout the day.

At 6am London time, staff camped around a campfire and waved union flags outside the Coventry site near Birmingham Airport, referred to as BHX4.

Striking staff gather around a bonfire on a picket line at an Amazon.com Inc. achievement center. in Coventry, UK on Wednesday, January 25, 2023.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

One poster behind the employees had the slogan ‘Fight for £15’ and encouraged staff to hitch the GMB union. Another that held on the fence read: “The improper Amazon is on fire.”

A striking employee affixes a banner reading “The improper Amazon is on fire” on a fence near a picket line on the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Coventry, UK, Wednesday, January 25, 2023.

Darren Staples | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The GMB union, which represents committed staff, said it expected 300 out of a complete of 1,000 staff on the plant to attend the strike.

Workers plan to carry a larger-scale demonstration from 4pm to 8pm London time.

Workers are dissatisfied with the 50p (56 US cents) hourly pay increase, which is 5% and well below inflation. Amazon rolled out a pay raise last summer. But warehouse staff say that does not match the rising cost of living. They want the corporate to pay a minimum of £15 an hour.

They also want higher working conditions. Amazon employees have raised concerns about long working hours, high injury rates, and unrelenting work rates as well aggressive, technology-enhanced worker monitoring.

A striking employee holds up the ‘GMB Midlands’ union flag as staff line as much as walk the picket line on the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Coventry, UK, Wednesday, January 25, 2023.

Darren Staples | Bloomberg via Getty Images

A spokesperson for the tech giant told CNBC in a press release that engaged employees are “only a fraction of 1% of our UK workforce”. A spokesman said the pay of Amazon’s UK warehouse staff had increased by 29% since 2018.

Wednesday’s motion against the corporate is the primary legal strike to happen within the UK. Amazon UK employees previously spontaneously stopped working in August and Black Friday in November.

‘Historical’

Darren Westwood, certainly one of the Amazon warehouse staff involved within the strikes, said it was “a good distance” to the day itself, which he described as “historic”.

“We’ve all seen the profits they’re making in the course of the pandemic – that is what has angered people more,” Westwood told CNBC by phone. “We expected higher growth than what they were imposing.”

Someone once said that we’re treated like robots – no, robots are treated higher.

Darren Westwood

Amazon warehouse employee

Inflation has skyrocketed because of increased energy costs and provide chain disruptions resulting from the war in Ukraine. Consumer prices rose 10.5% year-on-year in December; in response, the Bank of England raised rates of interest to contain rising costs.

Westwood said he and his partner are financially sound for now. But he worries about other employees, certainly one of whom he said worked 60 hours every week to repay his mortgage.

“Someone once said we’re being treated like robots – no, robots are being treated higher,” Westwood told CNBC.

Amazon suspends charity program

Wednesday’s UK motion comes as Amazon lays off 1000’s all over the world. The company began shedding 18,000 staff last week in an try and curb a few of the expansion undertaken in the course of the Covid-19 period and prepare for a possible recession in 2023.

Earlier this month, Amazon launched consultations to shut three of its UK branches, which employ a complete of 1,200 people. According to the corporate, the move isn’t a part of Amazon’s 18,000 layoffs.

Amazon has long been criticized for workers shortages, and the corporate is usually accused of poor working conditions in its warehouses and delivery operations, and suppressing staff’ unionization efforts. In April, staff at the corporate’s Staten Island, New York, warehouse became the primary U.S. group to vote to hitch a union.

“We stand in solidarity with Coventry-based Amazon staff fighting for higher wages and advantages,” Chris Smalls of the Amazon Labor Union, who founded the union, told CNBC. “It’s time for Amazon, which claims to be the perfect company on Earth, to sit down all the way down to the table and negotiate in good faith with its unions.”

Amazon has previously said its staff have the correct to hitch or not join a union, but it surely doesn’t imagine unions are the perfect alternative for its staff.

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