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Striking Amazon workers ‘have nothing to lose’: Hundreds of staff at UK warehouse stage first ever walkout in row over pay and ‘timed toilet breaks’

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Striking Amazon workers have hit out against ‘severe’ working conditions amid claims they are constantly monitored including timed toilet breaks as they walkout for the first time in the UK in a dispute over pay.

Members of the GMB union who work at the company’s fulfilment centre in Coventry are holding industrial action as they demand a wage rise amid big increases in the cost of living.

The union balloted workers in December  after they claimed to have been offered a ‘pathetic’ 50p-an-hour increase from the firm which made £204m in profits in 2021.

Speaking to BBC News, two Amazon workers said there were robots in the warehouse that are ‘treated better than us’.

Workers at the Amazon warehouse in Coventry have gone on strike today in a dispute over pay

Workers at the Amazon warehouse in Coventry have gone on strike today in a dispute over pay

Members of the GMB union stand outside the Amazon fulfilment centre in Coventry this morning

Members of the GMB union stand outside the Amazon fulfilment centre in Coventry this morning 

They also claimed that their toilet breaks are timed and being away from their working stations for ‘beyond a couple of minutes’ can lead to questions from managers.

Darren Westwood and Garfield Hilton said that they would sometimes be quizzed if they stopped working to go to the toilet – with a trip sometimes taking up to 15 minutes due to the sheer scale of the warehouse.

Mr Hilton said: ‘The thing with stopping work is that they want to know why.

‘So if the time is beyond a couple of minutes they can see it on the system.

‘They will then question you, ‘what were you doing?”

An Amazon spokesperson refuted claims that toilet breaks were timed.

They said: ‘You can go to the toilet whenever you need to. It’s not timed, you can log out of the system and go to the toilet, speak to a manager, get some water, it’s not an issue.’

Employees joined the picket line outside the Amazon fulfilment centre in Coventry as around 300 workers went on strike today.

Amazon has said it offers ‘competitive pay’ and that only a ‘tiny proportion’ of its UK workforce is involved in the strike with deliveries not being affected.

It is the first time the company’s workers have held industrial action in the UK, following similar strikes in the Unites States and Germany.

A fulfilment centre is a warehouse where goods are packed and dispatched to fulfil orders. 

Nazeret Zemuy works as a receiver, sorting parcels coming in to the warehouse, and is currently on £10.50 an hour following a 50p pay rise last August.

The 23-year-old, from Birmingham, who works 40 hours a week, said: ‘We need to be paid more than what we are currently on. I am struggling to support myself.

‘Everything is getting so much more expensive and it’s hard to cope.

‘Petrol and living expenses are going up and we need more pay to cope.

‘I would have to work around 60 hours a week to help support myself better but then I wouldn’t have a life and would constantly be at work.

‘We need more pay, and it is the only way.’

Elena Parascan, 27, from Coventry, is currently paid £10.50 an hour and works around 40 hours a week.

A member of the GMB union stands on the picket line outside the Amazon warehouse in Coventry this morning

A member of the GMB union stands on the picket line outside the Amazon warehouse in Coventry this morning

She said she often picks up overtime to help support her living costs and can work up to 60 hours a week.

She said: ‘I need my salary to be increased. What Amazon gives us does not match the rate that prices around us are going up.

‘We need to do something about this and that is why I am on strike. I am standing here to fight and came here to fight for better pay.

‘It’s very hard working these long hours and I have to pick up overtime to help support myself as what I am on is not enough.

‘The work is a lot of manual labour and some of the boxes I have to pick up are 25kg which is very heavy.

‘When I signed my contract they said I would only be lifting boxes up to 15kg but now I lift boxes 10kg heavier than that.

‘I need to be paid more for the extra weight and work I am having to do. It’s very problematic and that is the reality of it.

Members of the union speak to staff as they try to convince them not to cross the line and to go into work

Members of the union speak to staff as they try to convince them not to cross the line and to go into work

It comes after Royal Mail staff also went on strike over the festive period, causing chaos to people ordering presents and sending Christmas cards to loved ones.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s walkout, Stuart Richards, GMB senior organiser, said: ‘Today, Amazon workers in Coventry will make history. 

‘They’ve defied the odds to become the first ever Amazon workers in the UK to go on strike. 

‘They’re taking on one of the world’s biggest companies to fight for a decent standard of living. They should be rightly proud of themselves.’

Workers set up a brazier at the picket line as they protest and demand a pay rise amid freezing conditions this morning

Workers set up a brazier at the picket line as they protest and demand a pay rise amid freezing conditions this morning

‘After six months of ignoring all requests to listen to workers’ concerns, GMB urges Amazon UK bosses to do the right thing and give workers a proper pay rise.’

At its ballot in December, hundreds of union members overwhelmingly voted for strike action after protests took place at Amazon warehouses in Coventry, Tilbury, Essex, Bristol, Rugeley and Staffordshire.

Amazon, which refuses to recognise the GMB, claims its minimum wage for workers has increased by 29 per cent since 2018.

A spokesperson said: ‘A tiny proportion of our workforce are involved. 

‘In fact, according to the verified figures, only a fraction of 1% of our UK employees voted in the ballot – and that includes those who voted against industrial action. 

‘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. 

‘This represents a 29% increase in the minimum hourly wage paid to Amazon employees since 2018. 

‘Employees are also offered comprehensive benefits that are worth thousands more – including private medical insurance, life assurance, subsidised meals and an employee discount, to name a few.’ 

Source: Daily Mail UK

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