Workers at Amazon’s huge Coventry depot described the “stressful” conditions inside as they staged a historic strike to demand pay of £15 an hour. They also want to be recognised by a union.
The local GMB organiser Amanda Gearing said the action was “making an impact”, despite Amazon’s insistence that work was proceeding as usual inside the high-walled warehouse.
Gearing said the action had considerable support from workers who felt their voices were being heard.
She said that Amazon was being stubborn because they don’t want these workers to organise a union, but at some point, they’re going to have to get around the table.
The GMB has slowly been building up representation inside Amazon’s UK warehouses for a decade. Still, the action at Coventry grew out of some staff’s angry response to the 50p-an-hour pay rise they were offered last summer.
The strike has seen striking workers talking to hacks about life at the warehouse., which does sound like hell on toast. They described a physically demanding job in which their every move is monitored to the minute, and performance is measured against stringent targets.
“It’s stressful, to be honest, because every manager, every leader, they are pushing you to do the targets. We only get half an hour for each break time. If you are two minutes late they will ask, ‘what have you been doing?’”
“It’s much lifting. Sometimes we take little breaks, maybe five minutes. It’s not allowed.” He said he travelled to the site by Uber, and the cost had increased from £7 to £11 in recent months.
One of his colleagues, asked about the 50p pay rise, replied: “It’s ridiculous,” adding it amounted to £20 more a week after tax and would not cover the steeply rising cost of living.
Amazon sought to play down the significance of the strike. A spokesperson said it involved less than a per cent of their UK workforce and it had not disrupted activity at the site.
“We appreciate the great work our teams do throughout the year and we’re proud to offer competitive pay which starts at a minimum of between £10.50 and £11.45 per hour, depending on location,” said a spokesperson.
The GMB says it has only about 300 members at the site – less than a quarter of the 1,400 or so staff it believes to be working there – but stresses the difficulties of organising in the face of Amazon’s well-documented hostility to unions.
GMB organisers said several delivery lorries arriving at the site through the morning had turned around rather than cross the picket line – but other deliveries were coming and going as usual.
One staff member emerging from the warehouse at the end of a shift said managers had taken the unusual step of joining the packing lines to fill in for missing staff.