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AMAZON was hit by its first-ever British strike today as workers in Coventry offered a “derisory” pay rise of just 50 pence an hour took on one of the world’s biggest firms.
Staff at the US-owned online retail and logistics giant “just want a decent standard of living” as inflation tops 10 per cent, their union GMB stressed.
Speaking from a picket line outside the transnational company’s fulfilment centre in the West Midlands, the union’s senior organiser Amanda Gearing said the 178 employees who backed walkouts in a recent ballot have “had enough.”
She added: “The centres are pressure-cooker environments due to the targets workers are expected to reach.
“Amazon just wears them out, gets rid of them, replaces them.
“After the Covid-19 pandemic, they have offered a 50p pay increase in the biggest cost-of-living crisis that we’ve had in decades.
“When the workers have got nothing to lose, you see them coming out fighting.”
Ms Gearing noted the striking staff are “not militant and need a job,” adding: “They’ve put up with the conditions in those centres for a long time.
“Coventry has been open four years, we’ve had issues since it was open — they’re just horrendous places to work.”
The main problem stems from “target-led performance measures”, set by an “algorithm,” she said.
“Imagine turning up to work not knowing if you’re going to make the grade.
“If you don’t hit targets you end up in a disciplinary, so they’re just having to work, work, work. They’re not allowed to talk to people, it’s difficult to take a toilet break.
“In one of the other fulfilment centres, we were having people urinating in a bottle because they didn’t want to take time going to the toilet because it becomes ‘idle time.’
“We’ve got injuries, we’ve got more ambulances coming to this site than any other warehouse across the country. They’ve just got an appalling record when it comes to health and safety.
“We’ve been lucky there’s been no fatalities within those centres up to now.”
The union organiser urged Amazon, founded and run by US businessman Jeff Bezos, who is one of the richest men in the world with an estimated £100 billion fortune, to get round the table, but she added: “I don’t anticipate they’ll be giving me a call anytime soon.”
Her GMB colleague Stuart Richards hailed the strikers as history-makers, saying: “They’ve defied the odds and are taking on one of the world’s biggest companies to fight for a decent standard of living — they should be rightly proud of themselves.
“After six months of ignoring all requests to listen to workers’ concerns, GMB urges Amazon UK bosses to do the right thing and give workers a proper pay rise.”
The firm argued it already offers “competitive pay, comprehensive benefits and excellent opportunities for career growth, all while working in a safe and modern environment.”
A spokesman added: “The vast majority of ambulance call-outs to our buildings are related to pre-existing conditions, not work-related incidents, and as a responsible employer we will always call an ambulance if someone requires medical attention.”
Regarding toilet breaks, the company said: “You can use the toilet whenever you like, log off, have a drink, speak to your manager, etc — that’s not an issue.”
Only a “tiny proportion of the workforce is involved” in the dispute, the business claimed. There are thought to be about 2,000 staff at the Coventry site in total.
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