Amazon workers in Coventry to request union recognition after membership doubles

It would be first time a UK union wins formal negotiation rights and comes after GMB-organised strikes at warehouse

Amazon workers at the delivery firm’s Coventry depot are demanding formal union recognition, after membership more than doubled during strike action.

If granted, it would be the first time a union in the UK has won the right to negotiate with the American tech firm.

The GMB union, which has organised 14 strike days at the distribution centre since January, has been signing up hundreds of new members on picket lines outside.

Amazon implemented a pay rise of 50p an hour last month, taking its minimum pay for warehouse workers to £11; but the staff taking action are demanding £15 an hour – and have been frustrated at the company’s refusal to talk.

Amanda Gearing, GMB senior organiser, said: “GMB members have been crystal clear since the start of their campaign; they will not accept a pay rise of pennies from one of the world’s wealthiest corporations.

“After weeks of campaigning and 14 strike days, they’ve built the power of their union on site and are now in a position to file for recognition.”

The GMB now claims to have 700 members at the warehouse, up from about 300 when the dispute began. The GMB believes this is likely to amount to 50% of the staff employed there.

As a result, it will now request formal recognition from Amazon. If Amazon does not agree after 10 days, the union can then ask the independent Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) to grant statutory recognition.

CAC can uphold the request if it agrees there is evidence more than half the staff at the site want the union to represent them. It could ballot employees to judge whether this is the case.

If it won such a ballot, the GMB would then have the legal right to negotiate pay and conditions with management.

At the time of the recent pay rise, which followed another 50p increase last summer, an Amazon spokesperson said: “Over the past seven months, our minimum starting pay has risen by 10%, and by more than 37% since 2018. We also work hard to provide great benefits, a positive work environment and excellent career opportunities”.

The Coventry workers’ action has won the support of Taiwo Owatemi, the MP for Coventry North West, as well as US-based activists who have been pushing for union recognition at Amazon.

The GMB has spent a decade gradually building up representation inside Amazon distribution centres in the UK. It previously made an ill-fated bid for recognition at the firm’s Rugeley depot in 2019, but membership numbers at the time were too low for its request to succeed.

However, buoyed up by the strikes in Coventry – the first such action against the company in the UK – it is now balloting for industrial action at five other depots.

These consultative ballots, taking place at locations including Mansfield, Rugeley and Rugby, will gauge the appetite for industrial action. If they yield a yes vote, formal ballots for strike action could follow.

Frustration boiled over in Coventry after a previous 50p pay rise was announced last summer. Some workers initially held an informal stoppage in the canteen, before turning to the GMB to help them organise industrial action.


Heather Stewart

The GuardianTramp

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