Dissatisfaction begins Amazon’s largest UK warehouse began to flood on Wednesday as details of the hourly wage hike flashed across screens around the facility. Rumours at a distribution centre in Tilbury, south-east England, expected a £1 ($1.20) hourly pay rise, or 9% for many workers. Instead, the screen showed a gain of just 35p (or 43 cents), or about 3%.
“People were shocked,” said a Tilbury warehouse employee who was working with Nonprofit Foxglove Legal, to advocate for the rights of skilled workers. Amazon workers see the raise as an insult at a time when the cost of living is generally rising. “It makes absolutely no sense.”
Dissatisfaction with the pay raise prompted a group of employees to stop work and protest in the warehouse’s cafeteria around 4 p.m. Wednesday. GMB, a union representing some Amazon workers in the UK, estimated between 700 and 1,000 people attended, and said protests in Tilbury continued on Thursday, with workers at Coventry and Bristol warehouses also quitting.
Amazon workers aren’t the first in the UK tech industry to protest the pay rise, which they say is at odds with rising energy bills and inflation. Thousands of workers at telecoms company BT went on strike in late July after announcing a 3% to 8% pay rise. Postal and railroad workers across the country also voted for strike action over wages.
GMB’s regional organiser Steve Garrelick said there had been no previous strikes at multiple UK Amazon warehouses. “This is the first cohesive action by the workers,” he said. Garelik said the action reflects Amazon’s underreaction to workers’ concerns about rising costs of living due to inflation and rising Bank of England interest rates.
When asked about the strike, Amazon spokesman David Nyberg said the company offers competitive compensation and benefits. “Provides a comprehensive benefits package for employees, including private health insurance, life insurance, income protection, subsidized meals and employee discounts, which together are worth thousands of dollars a year, and a company pension plan,” GMB said. Discounts are capped at £100 per annum.
a video post On Twitter, the striking workers listened to Amazon representatives trying to convince them to go back to work or leave the factory, saying it was too hot. “It might not be safe to live in this cafeteria,” the manager said in the video, before their voices were drowned out by the crowd. “We’re used to it,” several voices called back.
Amazon has long tried to prevent its workers from unionizing, but more workers at its warehouses have joined since the pandemic hit. In April, Amazon employees in Staten Island, New York City, voted to form The company’s first union In the United States. In May, Amazon went on strike at seven fulfillment centers in Germany, Europe’s largest market.
“After Covid, after risking their lives in such uncertain times, it’s like spit in the face and getting 35p,” said another Amazon employee who took part in a strike at the Tilbury factory. “We can see the company making a profit.” Amazon posts quarterly profit of $14.3 billion February But it recorded losses in the last two quarters.
However, concerns about the cost of living have led other workers to conclude that they cannot afford to go on strike. “I need money,” said another worker at the Tilbury warehouse, who stayed at their station on Thursday instead of participating in the cafeteria protest and recently started working overtime to boost his income. “Inflation is very bad for us.”
Employees in Tilbury were told that to participate in the strike they had to “clock in” and would not be paid, the worker said, and managers kept records of who stayed at their workstations and who didn’t.