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Discontent erupted at Amazon’s biggest warehouse in the UK as details of the hourly pay rise flashed on screens around the facility on Wednesday. Rumors at the Tilbury distribution center in southeast England had expected a raise of £1 ($1.20) an hour, a 9 percent increase for many workers. Instead, the screens showed an increase of just 35 pence (or 43 cents), about 3 percent.
“People were in shock,” said a Tilbury warehouse employee who is working with the nonprofit FocusGlove Legal, which advocates for tech workers’ rights. Amazon workers see the pay increase as an insult at a time of widespread cost-of-living increases, the worker said. “It’s absolutely pointless.”
Frustration over the pay rise led a crowd of employees to stop work and protest in the warehouse cafeteria around 4pm on Wednesday. The union GMB, which represents some Amazon employees in the UK, estimated that between 700 and 1,000 people took part and said protests in Tilbury continued on Thursday, when warehouses in Coventry and Bristol were closed. The workers also left the work.
Amazon workers are not the first in Britain’s tech industry to protest against pay rises, with employees saying they are being left out of step by rising energy bills and the cost of inflation. Thousands of workers at telecommunications company BT went on strike in late July after announcing a pay rise of between 3 and 8 percent. Postal and rail workers across the country have also voted in favor of industrial action over pay.
GMB regional organizer Steve Garelick said there had not been a strike at a number of Amazon warehouses in the UK before. He said that this is the first time that a concerted action has been taken by the workers. Garelik said the action reflected Amazon’s inadequate response to concerns about the rising cost of living for workers, inflation and interest rate hikes by the Bank of England.
Asked about the walkout, Amazon spokesman David Nyberg said the company offers competitive pay and benefits. “Employees are offered a comprehensive benefits package that includes private medical insurance, life insurance, income protection, subsidized meals, and employee discounts, combined with a company pension plan for millennials. It is,” he said. The GMB said the employee discount was capped at £100 a year.
A video Posted Twitter showed striking workers listening to an Amazon representative trying to persuade them to return to work or leave the facility, saying it was too hot. “It’s probably not very safe to be in this canteen,” the manager says in the video, before his voice is drowned out by the crowd. “We’re used to it,” several voices shouted back.
Amazon has long tried to discourage its workers from joining unions, but more employees in its warehouses have done so since the pandemic hit. In April, Amazon workers in New York City’s Staten Island voted to form the company’s first union in the United States. In May, there were strikes at seven distribution centers across Germany, Amazon’s largest market in Europe.
“After Covid, after risking your life in such an uncertain time, it’s a slap in the face, getting 35p,” said another Amazon employee who took part in the walkout at the Tilbury facility. took “We can see the company turning a profit.” Amazon reported a quarterly profit of $14.3 billion in February but recorded losses in its last two quarterly results.
However, concerns about the cost of living led other workers to conclude that they could not afford to join the walkout. “I need the money,” said another Tilbury warehouse worker who stayed at his station rather than join the cafeteria protest Thursday, and recently started working overtime shifts to supplement his income. “Inflation is very hard on us.”
Staff at Tilbury were told they would have to “clock out” and not be paid to participate in the walkout, the worker said, and managers recorded who did and didn’t at their workstations. stay