BY Andrew Jose, The Western JournalJanuary 26, 2023
1 year ago

'Robots Are Treated Better': Hundreds of Workers Rise Up, Complain of Big Brother-like System

Amazon workers in the United Kingdom staged their first strike on Wednesday against the e-commerce giant, protesting low pay.

Hundreds of Amazon employees affiliated with the GMB general trade union walked out on Wednesday over the company's "derisory" 50 pence pay raise, the U.K.’s Daily Express reported.

The workers began their 24-hour strike just after midnight. Workers waving union flags were spotted camping by a bonfire outside the Coventry warehouse as early as 6 a.m., according to CNBC.

The demonstrators were standing in front of posters reading “Fight for £15,” calling for workers to join the GMB union. Another poster near the gathering stated, “The wrong Amazon is burning,” according to CNBC

Union members were aiming to conduct bigger demonstrations between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. London time, the outlet reported.

The strikers’ primary concern was their discontent with the 50 pence per hour pay hike, which is equivalent to 5 percent of what they had earned before last summer.

The hike, however, was below inflation and failed  to correspond to the growing living costs, CNBC reported.

The demonstrating workers are demanding that the company raise wages to £15 an hour, to correspond to the wages earned by their U.S.-based counterparts, the Express reported.

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“They’re taking on one of the world’s biggest companies to fight for a decent standard of living,” GMB senior organizer Stuart Richards said in a statement shared with CNN.

“After six months of ignoring all requests to listen to workers’ concerns, GMB urges Amazon U.K. bosses to do the right thing and give workers a proper pay rise,” Richards said.

In a statement to CNN, a representative for the company said they were not expecting delivery problems because of the strike.

The company is "proud to offer competitive pay," which starts between £10.50 per hour to £11.45 per hour ($12.92 to $14.09), the representative said.

“Employees are also offered comprehensive benefits that are worth thousands more,” including private medical insurance, subsidized meals and an employee discount, the representative explained.

Aside from wages, employees are carrying out the strike to also protest working conditions, including what they claim to be long working hours, high rates of workplace injuries, and tech-based employee monitoring, CNBC reported.

Speaking to the British state-run outlet BBC, workers said that employees are regularly monitored and reproached for “idle time” that lasts for a few minutes.

Workers Darren Westwood and Garfield Hilton told the outlet that the company is so strict about monitoring performance that employees taking brief breaks to visit the toilet can cause managers to ask them about where they had been.

"The thing with stopping work is that they want to know why," Hilton said, according to BBC. "So if the time is beyond a couple of minutes they can see it on the system." The company seeks to maximize "every minute in that building."

"You have to look at it this way, if the box with the product is not moving, you're not making money. This is Amazon. If there's a problem with a box, it's a loss-maker. If the box leaves a building it is making money."

Employees working at the warehouse in Coventry have to scan goods that are then sent to Amazon's fulfilment centers to be sent to customers.

Sometimes workers might be told to take care of boxes and pallets. "So when there's problems with a pallet or a box, that time will accrue," Westwood said. "Technically it could add up to 30 minutes. [The managers] will come down and say, 'during today, you've had 34 minutes of idle time. What were you doing?"

“Someone the other day said we’re treated like robots -- no, robots are treated better,” he told CNBC.

Amazon responded to criticism of its employee performance monitoring platform by saying the technology "encourages coaching to help employees improve if they are not meeting their performance goals,” BBC reported.

"Performance is only measured when an employee is at their station and logged in to do their job. If an employee logs out, which they can do at any time, the performance management tool is paused," the company said in a statement to BBC.

Westwood claims the worker's demands are simple, not maximalist.

"The money is there. I know people say that it's the politics of envy but we're not asking for his [Jeff Bezos'] yacht or his rocket,” Westwood told the Express.

“I'd be happy if they just increased it by £2. I think £2 an hour extra or £2.50 an hour extra would be acceptable. I think everyone would stop then and people would be happy,” he said of the wage hike.

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

Written by: Andrew Jose, The Western Journal

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