Toggle high contrast

Amazon dispute: GMB pushes for historic recognition

Published date
After a long and contentious battle, the GMB union is on the verge of becoming the first recognised trade union at an Amazon warehouse in the UK and Europe.

In the coming weeks, GMB will hold a ballot for union recognition at Amazon's Coventry warehouse. The entire union movement stands united behind Amazon workers, pushing for this historic victory against one of the world's most powerful corporations. 

“Amazon’s success – and monster profits – have been made off the back of its workforce. All its staff are asking for is for a fair deal and for a fair share of the wealth they create.”  
-Paul Nowak 

How it began 

The roots of the campaign began in December 2022 when Amazon Coventry warehouse staff voted, for the very first time in the UK, to strike over a 50p per hour pay rise.  With a 63% turnout from 300 members, an overwhelming 98% voted to strike, well above the required threshold. 

Workers described the pay offer as “a kick in the teeth”. In some cases they’d had to turn to food banks to feed their families and were struggling to pay bills, all while working tirelessly throughout the pandemic.  

Workers demand better 

Beyond the insufficient pay offer, dissatisfaction grew over general working conditions. Reports emerged of fainting incidents due to prolonged standing, and a GMB freedom of information request revealed that ambulances were called to the Coventry site 59 times between September 2018 and October 2021 for issues ranging from burns to traumatic injuries.  

The workers’ demands were clear: £15 per hour and immediate improvements to working conditions. On 25 January 2023, GMB members headed for the picket line for the very first time in the UK, initiating over 30 days of industrial action at the Coventry warehouse. 

The setbacks 

On 8 June 2023, GMB had to withdraw its historic bid for recognition at Coventry after Amazon increased its reported number of workers to 2,700, a claim accepted by the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC), with the GMB accusing Amazon of ’dirty tricks’. 

Despite this setback, GMB intensified its efforts, leading to significant action on Black Friday, 24 November 2023, with protests and coordinated strikes across Europe and the US. 

Another new Amazon centre faces strike action 

On January 2024, GMB members at a new centre in Birmingham, which opened in October 2023, voted to strike over pay and conditions. Strikes commenced on 25 January 2024, exactly one year after the initial Coventry stoppage, with 100% of GMB members at the Minworth fulfilment centre voting for industrial action. This marked the third UK Amazon warehouse to formally vote for strike action. 

Workers grow in strength 

Trade union membership in Coventry continued to grow exponentially. In 2023 alone, GMB membership at the Amazon warehouse in Coventry surged by 5,000%, highlighting the growing strength of feeling amongst members at Amazon. GMB attributed their recruitment success to natural workplace leaders, the diversity of the workforce, and proactive union organisers who engaged with workers regularly, empowering them in decision-making processes. 

Dirty tricks 

Throughout the campaign, Amazon employed various union-busting tactics, including posting anti-union notices and offering union members a £2,000 incentive to transfer to other sites around the Midlands to dilute the membership numbers. 

Despite these challenges, GMB turned these tactics into recruitment opportunities, growing membership at other sites by using those transferred members to start conversations in new workplaces. This strategy proved effective, as evidenced by the recent industrial action at Amazon’s new flagship site in Birmingham. 

On the verge of first-ever trade union recognition  

GMB, confident in the growing number of members at the Coventry site, relaunched their campaign for recognition at the warehouse early this year. On 19 April 2024, the CAC ruled in favour of a union recognition vote, determining that a majority of workers would likely support union recognition. This decision paves the way for a legally binding vote among Amazon Coventry's workforce.  

The CAC will appoint an independent organisation to arrange a legally binding vote of workers, with the ballot timetable expected to be announced in the coming weeks. All that remains before the official voting period can begin is an agreement on access at the site between employer and the GMB, but that is expected to be resolved soon. 

Now, Amazon could be on the brink of being forced to recognise a trade union for the first time and the TUC will be working alongside and supporting GMB to ensure the best possible turnout. If the ballot is successful, this would see a recognised trade union footprint in Amazon in the UK for the very first time. Union recognition would mean Amazon would be forced to sit down with GMB on matters relating to pay, hours, and holidays; the first time this has been achieved anywhere in the world outside of the USA. 

Speaking on the significance of the recognition bid, Paul Nowak, TUC General Secretary said:

“It's vital that we all get behind Amazon workers. Good employers recognise the value of trade unions and how they can make workplaces happier, safer, and more productive."

"Too many workers in this country are treated like disposable, throwaway labour. And too many decent companies are being undercut by the bad."  

This campaign, like many others, highlights the urgent need for legal reforms to allow unions access to workplaces and to eliminate unnecessary barriers to recognition.

Enable Two-Factor Authentication

To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).

Setup now