Discontent started to ripple through Amazon’s largest UK warehouse as soon as details of a bump in hourly pay flashed onto screens around the facility on Wednesday. Rumors at the Tilbury distribution center in southeast England had anticipated a raise of £1 ($1.20) per hour, for many workers an increase of 9 percent. Instead, the screens displayed a rise of just 35 pence (or 43 cents), about 3 percent.
“People were in shock,” said one employee at the Tilbury warehouse, who is working with the nonprofit Foxglove Legal, which advocates for tech workers’ rights. Amazon workers consider the pay increase an insult at a time of broad increases in the cost of living, the worker said. “It’s absolutely pointless.”
Frustration at the pay increase drove a crowd of employees to stop work and protest in the warehouse’s cafeteria at around 4 pm on Wednesday. The union GMB, which represents some Amazon employees in the UK, estimated that between 700 and 1,000 people took part and said that protests in Tilbury continued on Thursday, when workers at warehouses in Coventry and Bristol also walked off the job.
Amazon workers are not the first in the UK’s tech industry to protest pay raises that employees say are out of step with the mounting cost of energy bills and inflation. Thousands of workers at the telecommunications company BT went on strike in late July, after a pay raise of between 3 and 8 percent was announced. Post and rail workers across the country have also voted in favor of industrial action over pay.
There has not previously been a strike across multiple UK Amazon warehouses, said Steve Garelick, regional organizer at GMB. “This is the first time ever there's been cohesive action from the workers,” he said. Garelick said the action reflects Amazon’s insufficient response to workers’ concerns about the increased cost of living, driven by inflation and a rise in interest rates from the Bank of England.
When asked about the walkouts, Amazon spokesperson David Nieberg said the company offers competitive pay and benefits. “Employees are offered a comprehensive benefits package that includes private medical insurance, life assurance, income protection, subsidized meals, and an employee discount, among others, which combined are worth thousands annually, as well as a company pension ...