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    ‘It’s hard to survive’, say striking Amazon workers

    A GMB Union banner hangs from a road sign outside the Amazon fulfilment centre in Coventry, central England on March 2, 2023 (Photo by DARREN STAPLES/AFP via Getty Images)

    “Amazon won’t give you anything if you don’t fight for it,” a union organiser shouted through a bullhorn as dozens of disgruntled workers staged a strike outside the US tech warehouse in Coventry, central England.

    “We’re asking for a raise. One of my children has eczema, I told him to take a bath every other day, I can’t pay for the hot water,” Kaur, who declined to give her first name, told AFP.

    The 40-year-old mother of three, wearing a red hat and dark puffer jacket to protect against the cold winter air, works mostly at night and on her feet.

    She earns £10.50 ($12.58) an hour – more than the national minimum wage – plus a small night premium.

    As well as facing a surge in her energy costs, her grocery bill has more than doubled during the crisis, making it “hard to survive”.

    Overall inflation in the UK is running at around 10 per cent. While energy prices are starting to fall, food inflation still sits at 17 per cent.

    Amazon worker Valentina, 37, said staff were underpaid given the arduous nature of the work.

    “Everyday we lift heavy boxes of 15, 17, 20 and 25 kilos. So you’re hurting yourself,” she said.

    Antonio Daniel, 22, has a daily drive of 120 kilometres (74 miles) and often works at night – severely disrupting his sleep.

    “During Covid we risked our health, our lives and they made a huge profit,” said colleague Dan, 29.

    Now “we have to work 60 hours a week to pay our expenses. We don’t have time for our family and that’s exhausting”.

    Amazon’s global sales rose nine percent to $514 billion (£427bn) in 2022 but operating profit halved to $12.2 billion on hefty cost increases. It has launched a savings drive and plans to cut 18,000 jobs worldwide.

    A company spokesman told AFP that employees receive benefits such as product discounts, subsidised meals and health insurance.

    An Amazon spokesman told AFP that only “a tiny proportion of our workforce are involved” in this week’s strikes.

    GMB trade union official Stuart Richards said Coventry was the only Amazon site in the country where there was genuine employee representation.

    Around 400 employees joined in walkouts held between Tuesday and Thursday, Richards said. The site employs a total of about 1,200 staff.

    A class action lawsuit has also been filed by a law firm on behalf of Amazon delivery workers, seeking to have them recognised as employees and not as subcontractors.

    Referring to the strikers gathered on Thursday evening under orange tents, Richards noted that “very few of them are from the UK” and do not always know their rights and are often uncomfortable in defending them.

    Dialogue with management is non-existent, added Richards, claiming that the company makes it “incredibly hard” for the union.

    He also criticised the pressure put on employees by the company’s “constant” measurement of performance, which he claimed leads to a “huge amount of injuries”.

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