Labor & Workforce

‘We are not robots’: the desperate cry of Amazon’s UK employees

By Judith Mora

Coventry, UK, Mar 14 (EFE).- Amazon employees in Coventry are striking from Monday to Friday this week to denounce what they say are poor working conditions, including up to 60 hour working weeks, a shortage of toilet facilities and heightened risk of injury.

After their first historic strike on January 25, a group of almost 500 employees have stepped up the pressure with another strike this week in protest against their wages and working conditions which they say are abusive.

The strikers formed a picket line on Tuesday morning and managed to stop several of the company’s trucks carrying merchandise from entering the distribution facility, which is the size of eight football pitches and is one of the largest in the country.

In the afternoon, they will be replaced by their colleagues on the night shift, a pattern that will be repeated throughout the week.

As well as asking for a pay rise, from 10.50 pounds sterling ($12.78) to 15 pounds, the strikers’ aim is to recruit more than half of the plant’s workforce to legally force Amazon to accept union representation and collective bargaining.

In April 2022, an Amazon warehouse in New York became the first to gain such recognition in the United States, in what was seen as a victory for workers over the company which is known for its strong anti-union stance.

Emilia Gradinaru, a 47-year-old Romanian who has worked at the Coventry site since it opened in 2018, is one of many employees who have complained about the damage caused by the so-called “safety shoes” they are forced to wear.

In addition to calloused feet, she experiences constant back pain due to the weight she must carry without being able to sit down during her 10-hour shift. She is one of those who works 60 hours a week, instead of 40, to make ends meet amid the cost of living crisis.

“Their priority is the numbers, but we are not robots,” she tells Efe, echoing one of the strike’s slogans, as she describes the constant supervision and reprimands to which they are subjected by their superiors.

“It is physically demanding, I have back problems. It’s destroying our health, we don’t see the light of day,” says Justyna Nowak, a 35-year-old Polish woman.

Amid condemnation of imposing excessive targets on its employees, an Amazon spokesperson told Efe that “performance metrics are regularly evaluated and built on benchmarks based on actual attainable employee performance history.”

“We look at the performance that associates are naturally setting and then set the benchmarks from there with a focus on safety in mind,” the spokesperson explained.

Another common complaint from strikers is the inadequacy of toilets in a facility with more than 14 kilometers of conveyor belts, which in some cases has led to claims of people urinating in bottles.

The company, however, denies that, saying that “every employee has easy access to toilet facilities which are just a short walk from where they are working” and “are allowed to use the toilet whenever needed”.

Several workers told Efe of incidents of injuries and health problems, including miscarriages and lightheadedness, where management was reluctant to call an ambulance.

“I wear two knee prostheses and one day I hurt myself and couldn’t move. Instead of taking me to the emergency hospital, they made me call my husband to come and get me,” says Marie Connelly, 57.

Amazon says keeping its “employees safe at work is (…) our number one priority and ahead of everything else, it’s the most important thing we do.”

“We work closely with health and safety experts, conduct thousands of safety inspections in our buildings, and actively seek employee feedback on how we can improve their well-being at work.”

Whether through lack of will or lack of communication, it seems that the employees demonstrating this week at the gates of the Coventry plant do not feel they are being heard. EFE

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