Employees in the US, UK, India, Japan, Australia, South Africa and across Europe are calling for better wages and working conditions as the cost-of-living crisis deepens, in a campaign dubbed “Make Amazon Pay”. The campaign is being coordinated by an international coalition of trade unions, with support from environmental and civil society groups.
“It is time for the tech giant to stop its outrageous and unsafe practices immediately, respect the law and negotiate with workers who want to improve their jobs,” said Kristi Hoffman, general secretary of the UNI Global Union, one of the organizers of the campaign.
Tension with workers has been a longstanding problem at the e-commerce giant, which has faced complaints of unfair labor practices as well as employee activism and unionization motives at some facilities. In what was seen as a watershed moment, workers at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York, voted earlier this year to join an upstart union. “While we’re not perfect in any area, if you look objectively at what Amazon is doing on these important matters, you’ll see that we take our role and our impact very seriously,” Amazon spokesperson David Nyberg said.
He noted the company’s goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 and that it “continues to offer competitive wages and great benefits, and invent new ways to keep our employees safe and healthy.”
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Unions in France and Germany – CGT and Ver.di – are leading the latest collective action, with coordinated strikes at 18 major warehouses, aimed at disrupting shipments across key European markets.
Monika di Silvestre, chair of the Amazon commission at Ver.di in Germany, said workers were particularly concerned about the way their productivity was being closely monitored by computers, with algorithms setting targets, for example for the number of packages they needed per hour.
“Workers are under a lot of pressure with these algorithms,” she said. It does not differentiate between workers, whether they are elderly or have limited mobility. Workers stay up at night thinking only of their productivity statistics.”
She called on European politicians to promote workers’ rights across the bloc. She said: “We don’t have the right to strike all over Europe – at the European level.”
In the UK, workers linked to the GMB union have planned protests outside several depots, including Coventry.
“Amazon workers in Coventry are overstretched, underpaid, and have had enough,” said Amanda Gering, a senior organizer at GMB, adding that “hundreds” would congregate to demand a rise in wages from £10.50 an hour to £15.
Any worker who leaves during a shift could lose the second half of the £500 bonus Amazon announced for warehouse workers in the UK last month.
Final payment is contingent on employees receiving a “no unauthorized absence” between November 22 and December 24. GMB Bank said linking the payments to the attendees could be interpreted as an illegal incitement not to strike.
In the United States, protests and rallies will take place in more than 10 cities and outside the apartment building on 5th Avenue, New York, where Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has an apartment.
Multiple rallies are also planned in India while in Japan, members of a recently created union will protest in front of the company’s national headquarters in Tokyo. In Bangladesh, Amazon supply chain garment workers will march in Dhaka and Chittagong.
Some of the demos will focus on Amazon’s environmental and social footprint, for example in Ireland where people will gather outside the company’s Dublin offices to fight back against two new data centers planned in the city.
In South Africa, protesters will gather near Amazon’s new offices in Cape Town, which are being developed on land considered sacred by indigenous people.
Some unions have expressed concern about the current economic climate amid a warning from Amazon that the peak Christmas season may not be as crowded as usual. The company’s decision to lay off 10,000 employees will also make wage negotiations more difficult.
Laurent Cretin, a delegate for the CFE-CGC union in France, said the company will have 880 workers in a warehouse in Chalon-sur-Saône this Christmas season, down from 1,000 before Covid, which he linked to tightening consumer spending and shifting. From activity to automated warehouses.
“The outlook is not great, and we’re not sure we’ll do as well as last year’s post-Covid boom,” he said.