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GMB Amazon Berlin Meeting

Thursday, March 6, 2014

GMB To Meet German Union In Berlin On Monday 10th March Over Poor Employment Practices In Amazon Distribution Chain Across Europe

Amazon’s refusal to pay proper taxes or to treat its workers properly gives it an unfair competitive advantage and is part of the reason why so many established high street names are going to the wall says GMB.

GMB officers representing members in Amazon in the UK are travelling to Berlin on Monday 10th March to meet officers from sister union VerDi and members employed by Amazon in their German warehouses. VerDi is a recognized union in the German warehouses.

The aim of the meeting is to discuss how to combine to ensure that Amazon improves security of employment, treats workers fairly and pays them a wage they can live on in their distribution chain in the UK and elsewhere in the EU.

Amazon has operations in Croydon, Doncaster, Dunfermline, Edinburgh, Gourock, Hemel Hemstead, Milton Keynes, Peterborough, Rugeley, Swansea, Slough, Holborn in London, Dublin and Cork. Amazon told the press in Feb 2013 it employs more than 5,000 permanent employees across the UK and a further 10,000 to 15,000 casual staff throughout the year.  Amazon plans to double the number of warehouses it operates in Britain in the next three years.

GMB will advise VerDi that unlike in Germany union activity in the UK has to be kept underground for fear of reprisals. So hostile are employers like Amazon, that union organisation is driven underground adopting the tactics of the French resistance or human rights campaigns in totalitarian regimes.

The law in Germany better protects rights to organize and workers at some of Amazon's German warehouses took strike action on 16/17 December 2013 over pay.

Martin Smith, GMB National Organizer who is travelling to Berlin, said “Amazon workers in the UK need help from our German colleagues who enjoy better employment rights than we do.

The high tech way Amazon process orders and tracks inventory disguises that it is also a traditional labour intensive mail order retail business.

It relies on a road network funded by taxpayers for the business to business delivery of products to warehouses and for the business to customer delivery to private homes. It relies on large numbers of staff to receive the goods, to pick and pack them to meet customer orders.

Where it differs from other retailers is its refusal to pay proper taxes or to treat its workers properly.   This gives Amazon an unfair competitive advantage and is part of the reason why so many established high street names are going to the wall.

It is time to strip away the high tech image and expose the exploitation involved in their business model.

Many staff at Amazon are actually employed by employment agencies in casual or temporary jobs with no job security and no guaranteed incomes. Using employment agencies to meet fluctuating demand for labour is equivalent to selection at the dock gates in Victorian times and is casual labour of the worst kind.

Amazon pays most of its UK staff just above the national minimum wage of £6.31 per hour. For most Amazon staff the minimum wage has become the maximum. Paying a minimum wage rather than a wage workers can live on obliges taxpayers to top up wages for staff with families. Working families tax credit is a subsidy to a company like Amazon which pays little corporation taxes. 

Staff complain about a culture of bullying and harassment endemic in the dataveillance that comes from staff being required to wear digital arm mounted terminals (AMTs) with no agreed protocols re breaks, speeds etc.

Requiring employees to wear AMTs and subjecting them to dataveillance, while denying them union rights, takes away the consent essential for the positive use of digital arm-band devices. Members say it is human automation – they are kind of robots with no say. We need to work with VerDi on improving ergonomics for our members here and in Germany.

GMB seeks the support of VerDi for the campaign to ensure that Amazon pays proper taxes. In 2006 Amazon transferred its UK business to Luxembourg and reclassified its UK operation as simply "order fulfilment" business to qualify for lower taxes. The Luxembourg office employs 380 people. The UK operation employs up to 20,000. Tax dodgers are wage dodgers. This abuse has to stop.”


Contact: Martin Smith 07974 251 823 or Mick Conroy GMB Scotland 07921 289737 or Nadine Houghton GMB Croydon 07714 239227 or Mervyn Burnett GMB Wales 07980 753114 GMB Press Office 07921 289 880



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