Amazon Workers in U.K. Go on Strike for First Time

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com Inc. workers in Britain went on strike for the first time Wednesday, dragging the e-commerce giant into the wave of labor unrest that has been sweeping the U.K. and other European economies.

While Amazon said the industrial action at a warehouse in Coventry in central England would have little impact on its overall operations, the strikes could portend further disruption for the company in one of its most important overseas markets. Union leaders have already vowed to extend strike to other Amazon facilities in the U.K. in a dispute over pay.

Britain has been experiencing its biggest strikes in decades this winter, with doctors and nurses, postal workers, railway staff and teachers among those demanding improved pay deals amid a painful surge in living costs.

Elsewhere in Europe, workers in France, Germany and Italy have also taken industrial action in recent weeks. Over one million people took to the streets across France last week, authorities said, amid worker unrest over proposals to raise the country’s retirement age.

The strike at Amazon in the U.K. comes after the retailer’s workers in Staten Island, New York voted last year to form the company’s first American union. However, the threat of widespread worker unrest then dissipated as employees at several other U.S. Amazon facilities voted against unionization.

Workers at the Coventry facility in England voted to go on strike last year after some deemed an hourly pay increase of 50 pence, the equivalent of 62 cents, to be inadequate, according to the GMB Union, which organized the industrial action. 

Amazon said it pays its British workers at least £10.50 an hour. That is more than the nationally mandated minimum wage of £9.50 an hour, though that is set to rise to £10.45 an hour in April.

“People working for one of the most valuable companies in the world shouldn’t have to threaten strike action just to win a wage they can live on,” the GMB Union said in a statement.

The union, which represents half a million workers across a range of industries, said it wants Amazon workers to be paid an hourly rate of £15.

Amazon said its U.K. workers receive “competitive pay,” and that basic pay for its staff in the country had risen 29% since 2018.

Around 300 workers out of roughly 2,000 who work at the Coventry site are set to walk out Wednesday, the GMB Union said. The union added that it is planning further strikes at the facility, and that other Amazon sites in the U.K. would soon be balloted over potential industrial action. The company says it employs over 70,000 people in the U.K.

The mood among Amazon workers in Britain has soured this month, union officials said, after the company announced the closure of three U.K. facilities—the first such closures since Amazon established itself in the country 25 years ago.

Amazon said the 1,300 workers affected by the closures would have the opportunity to take jobs elsewhere in the company. The GMB Union said some of these people were effectively being laid off since they wouldn’t be able to relocate to assume roles elsewhere in the country.

Amazon said it would also open two new U.K. facilities within the next three years, creating 2,500 jobs.

News of the closures comes amid a broader retrenchment in the tech industry. Earlier this month, Amazon said it would lay off around 18,000 workers as it attempts to rein in costs.

Germany and the U.K. are Amazon’s second- and third-biggest markets globally after the U.S., generating 2021 sales of $37 billion and $32 billion respectively, according to the company’s filings. That compared with U.S. sales of $314 billion.

Amazon workers in France and Germany held strikes and demonstrations on Black Friday in November to demand higher pay. French employees also went on strike earlier in 2022 to protest the company’s offer of a below-inflation 3% pay rise.

Write to Trefor Moss at [email protected]

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