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Amazon workers strike during Prime Day

Published: 16 July 2019 - Fiona Garcia
UK workers have been staging protests outside fulfilment centres over "appalling working conditions"
UK workers have been staging protests outside fulfilment centres over "appalling working conditions"

Employees in Europe and the US are up in arms over wages and “dehumanising working conditions” during the e-commerce giant’s famous Prime Day sales extravaganza - although Amazon has dismissed claims by unions, calling them "misleading" and accusing certain groups of "conjuring misinformation" to further their own agenda.

Thousands of Amazon workers are staging worldwide protests on two of the retailer’s biggest trading days of the year. Staff at warehouses walked out on yesterday (Monday, July 15) and more strikes took place today, with Amazon’s Prime Day set to run until 11.59pm tonight.

While Amazon customers are set to save millions over the two days of deals, unions have confirmed that week-long protests are planned by employees in the UK, 2,000 workers are striking in Germany, and in the US, workers in a centre in Shakopee, Minnesota carried out a six-hour stoppage and held an afternoon rally outside the building on Monday, July 15.

Earlier this month Amazon vowed to create more than 2,000 permanent jobs in the UK during 2019 and promised highly competitive pay rates and industry-leading benefits. However, UK staff are staging protests over what they call “dehumanising work conditions” for many associates working at Amazon fulfilment centres.

Demonstrations kicked off yesterday outside Amazon fulfilment centres, including Rugeley, Swansea, Peterborough, Warrington, Coventry, Doncaster and Milton Keynes under the slogan ‘We are not Robots’.

GMB national officer Mick Rix said: “We’re staging protests across Amazon sites up and down the country this Prime Day. The conditions our members work under at Amazon sites across the UK are appalling.”

GMB said its research has revealed the “dangerous conditions Amazon workers struggle under”, explaining that, since 2015/16, more than 600 reports have been made from Amazon warehouses to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

GMB members report targets being “so horrific they have to use plastic bottles to urinate in instead of going to the toilet, and pregnant women have been forced to stand for hours on end”. Some pregnant women have also reportedly been targeted for dismissal.

Detailing the campaign, union GMB said: “No one should be scared about leaving work in an ambulance. But that’s the reality hundreds of Amazon warehouse workers face each and every shift. There have been more than 600 ambulance call-outs to Amazon warehouses over the past three years. And, all the while, billionaire boss Jeff Bezos - the richest man in the word - is refusing to give workers basic rights.

“GMB Union wants to work with Amazon to improve working conditions for our members. But so far, Amazon are refusing to recognise, or even meet with, the union.”

It follows a campaign in February when union members delivered a giant Valentine’s card to the company’s Rugely warehouse to highlight the ‘brutal’ working conditions.

Responding to the protests and GMB's accusations, an Amazon spokesperson said: "Events like Prime Day have become an opportunity for our critics, including unions, to raise awareness for their cause, in this case, increased membership dues. These groups are conjuring misinformation to work in their favour, when in fact we already offer the things they purport to be their cause — industry-leading pay, benefits, and a safe workplace for our employees. We can only conclude that the people who plan to attend the events are simply not informed. We encourage anyone to book a tour of our fulfillment centers and compare our overall pay, benefits, and workplace environment to other retailers and major employers in the community and across the country.”

GMB claims Amazon’s Rugeley site “is one of the most dangerous places to work in Britain”, with figures showing there were 115 ambulance call-outs to the centre over a three year period, whilst a similar-sized supermarket warehouse nearby had only eight call-outs during the same period. GMB maintains, despite this, Amazon has turned down a joint plea from GMB Jack Dromey, MP for Birmingham Erdington and Shadow Minster for Work and Pensions for an independent health and safety review to improve conditions.

Amazon has called GMB's figures in this instance "misleading", stating: "According to the Health & Safety Executive, we have over 40% fewer injuries on average than other transportation and warehousing companies in the UK. Using absolute ambulance numbers to suggest that a workplace is not safe is misleading because it does not take into consideration hours worked, population-size and whether the requests were work-related or not."

Amazon posted sales of more than £188billion last year. The company employs 630,000 workers worldwide, 29,500 of which are based in the UK.

Meanwhile, Amazon workers at seven facilities across Germany went on strike yesterday. Trade union Verdi said the strike, which affects sites in Koblenz, Werne, Rheinberg, Leipzig, Graben, and two locations in Bad Hersfeld, is being carried out under the motto ‘No more discounts on our income’.

Workers began their stoppage late Sunday and carried on into Monday. The online retailer operates 12 storage facilities and 11 logistics centres in Germany, employing around 13,000 people, of which 2,000 took part in the action.

Verdi has been pushing for better wages for Amazon workers for more than six years. The union also wants a collective wage agreement, as is common in the retail and mail-order trades.

Verdi trade expert Orhan Akman said: “While Amazon blasts its prices with hefty discounts for bargain hunters on Prime Day, the employees are being denied a living wage.”

It is not the first strike action of its kind by Amazon workers in Europe, with strikes and protests held at Amazon warehouses in Spain, Germany, France, Italy and the UK. Warehouse employees have long complained about brutal work conditions at the online giant’s fulfilment centres but are now even more upset following the company’s decision to offer one-day shipping to Prime customers, expecting the move to increase the pressure on them in the workplace.

However, reports suggest the strike in Minnesota is a bold move for US workers, who unlike their European counterparts, are not yet unionised. Alexia Fernández Campbell of US news source, Vox, said a strike by American warehouse workers “shows just how frustrated and desperate some employees have become”.

Meanwhile, Amazon has played down the action taken by employees in the US and hit out at organisations who have used its major Prime sales event to further their own agenda.

A spokesperson for the global company said: "Roughly 15 associates participated in the event outside of the Shakopee fulfillment centre. It was obvious to the 1,500 full-time workforce that an outside organisation used Prime Day to raise its own visibility, conjured misinformation and a few associate voices to work in their favour, and relied on political rhetoric to fuel media attention."

They concluded: "The fact is that Amazon provides a safe, quality work environment in which associates are the heart and  soul of the customer experience, and today’s event shows that our associates know that to be true.”

Amazon operates more than 100 fulfilment centres in the US and 175 wor

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