Express & Star

Two-day Amazon strike starts in Rugeley as union boss warns 'fight for rights only beginning'

Amazon staff demanding pay rises and workers' rights made their feelings heard as they started a two-day strike at their Staffordshire base.

Last updated
The workers take up their place outside the Rugeley Amazon fulfilment centre

Members of the GMB Union stood in solidarity outside the Rugeley fulfilment centre - with other staff also downing tools at a similar site in Coventry - as they campaigned for a minimum wage of £15 per hour and union rights.

The walkout on Thursday and Friday come on the anniversary of the first strike action at Amazon where workers were offered a pay rise of 35p.

The latest industrial dispute will mean the number of days lost to strike action by the company will rise to 26.

GMB senior organiser Rachel Fagan said it was a significant time for workers and the industrial action was just the start.

She said: "One year ago, Amazon workers downed tools in disgust after managers announced one of the world’s wealthiest companies would be offering a pay rise of just 35p.

“Twelve months on and Amazon is now facing the biggest week of industrial action in the company’s history – across two sites.

"Amazon has thrown everything at stopping this, but workers have stood firm on the picket line and are more determined than ever to win £15 and union rights.

“This industrial action will spread further: it’s clear the fight for workers’ rights at Amazon is only just beginning.”

It was a morning for workers to call on management for more respect and a fair wage

The early hours of Thursday morning saw around 20 people congregating at the front gates of the fulfilment centre, wearing GMB Union jackets and waving flags, while also chanting messages about Amazon owner Jeff Bezos and holding signs with slogans.

These included messages such as 'I am not a robot' and 'Do you suffer from aches & pains?' as the striking workers protested peacefully, but with a message towards bosses at Amazon to treat them with respect and pay better wages.

Among those protesting was 23-year-old Teodora Bisog, who worked as a picker and associate forum representative and who said the current wage structure of £11 per hour for people with less than three years service and £11.50 for those with longer than three years wasn't good enough.

She said: "I am here today as I am looking for respect from Amazon for all the workers, as well as a pay increase, and what we have right now is not enough with everything that is going on at the moment.

"People are having to do 60 hours a week to be able to pay their bills, feed their children and feed themselves, which I don't think is fair as, to be honest, Amazon wouldn't be where it is without the workers.

"We pick items for the customers, pack them, ship them and store them, which is not easy work, especially picking as you walk from one end of the building to the other every single day and, in time, that can affect your health.

"It is very frustrating to feel like management treat us like we're just a number and are replaceable and there are people who have been here for years and know more than the management do.

"What I want from today is for management to realise that we are replaceable and we not just a number and we can think for ourselves and speak for ourselves and we want a pay increase and we want respect."

Placards at the protest had slogans about not being robots

The sentiments of Teodora were agreed with by other striking workers and members of the GMB union, with some of those attending not currently employed by Amazon, but wanting to offer their support.

One man, who asked not to be named, said he wanted to be there to support his former colleagues against what he described as "horrendous" treatment by managers.

He said: "I just think everyone deserves a better change and the pay is just ridiculous and the treatment by managers is horrendous, with the new managers coming in and thinking they're better than everyone else.

"The biggest issue is that they don't listen to the workers and they don't communicate very well and only talk when they want to talk.

"It's just nice to see everyone come together in solidarity and I will fight with them for the same cause and achieve more recognition for them and for them to be heard inside and outside the building."

The fulfilment centre was a quiet place as staff went on strike

GMB regional organiser Ferdousara Uddin said she was proud to be there to see the level of unionisation that had grown in the two sites and how much workers were prepared to stand up for their rights at Amazon.

She said: "Seeing how the workers have unionised and how they've developed and grown in numbers and strength as workers, as well as take this stand against a multi-million pound company brings a lot of pride to me, the union I work for and for the working class movement.

"I've been listening to the stories of the workers here for the best part of a year and I wish I could say I'm not shocked anymore, but every time you speak to a different person about their experiences and what they've endured, it still shocks you to the core.

"Their working experiences and the traumatic experiences they've had break your heart and that's why this action is necessary as when you think about the people breaking their backs to feed their families and realise that they don't want to go on strike, but they've been left with no choice.

"After working through the pandemic and keeping the place going, a 50p pay rise was offered. This, after Amazon had tripled their prices and when you think that all the company can offer is 50p, what choice are the workers left with?"

Packing and picking tier one associate Dale said he felt it was a shame that the strike action was happening, but said the job and conditions had deteriorated over the years and said management had reduced pay as the UK market had become more mature.

The protest was loud, but good-natured, with chants about Jeff Bezos and union rights

He said: "This used to be a decently paid job where we had share awards and pay was above minimum wage on top of that, but it has just deteriorated over the years as they have seen the opportunity to reduce our pay.

"I think that as the UK operations have become more mature, they have thought 'we don't really need to struggle to keep the staff here anymore and they are expendable', which I think shows that they don't really understand what we have been through as workers.

"I want, from this strike, to encourage more people to stand up and fight for their pay and treatment at work and for management to treat us better and give us better payoffs."

Amazon have said in response to the strikes that the starting pay for employees is between £11 and £12 per hour, depending on the location and had invested more than £125 million on pay rises in less than a year, while also offering benefits such as private medical insurance and employee discounts.

A spokesman for Amazon said: "We regularly review our pay to ensure we offer competitive wages and benefits.

"In less than a year, our minimum pay has risen by 10 per cent and by more than 37 per cent since 2018.

"We also work hard to provide great benefits, a positive work environment and excellent career opportunities.

"These are just some of the reasons people want to come and work at Amazon, whether it’s their first job, a seasonal role or an opportunity for them to advance their career.”