For the first time ever, Amazon could be forced to recognize a trade union in the UK. The GMB union claims that it has enrolled a majority of workers at Amazon’s Coventry warehouse, which would legally qualify them for recognition. If the GMB’s claim is accurate, this could be a historic victory for the union after a decade of trying.
According to the GMB, nearly 700 of the estimated 1,300 workers at the distribution centre have joined the union, meeting the threshold for statutory recognition. The GMB has written to Amazon asking for formal recognition, which, if successful, would require the company to negotiate with workers about their pay, holidays, and sick pay.
Amazon has stated that it “respects its employees’ rights to choose to join or not join a labour union,” and has 10 days to respond to the request for recognition from the GMB. The company has also stated that it regularly reviews pay and has raised its minimum pay by 10% over the past seven months, with a starting pay between £11 and £12 per hour.
Amanda Gearing, senior organiser of the GMB, told the BBC’s Radio 4 that the process of establishing a union was “never straightforward.” She said that there is a full process in place to try to prevent the GMB from forming, but the union believes that it has the numbers now, and Amazon will go out of its way to flood the warehouse with more workers to ensure that the numbers are different.
The dispute between Amazon and its workers has been ongoing since August 2022 when workers at the Coventry warehouse first started protesting about their pay. In January, they held the first-ever Amazon strike in the UK. While Amazon has increased its minimum starting wage, the union is calling for an hourly wage of £15.
The GMB’s Darren Westwood, who works at the warehouse, and who has been at the forefront of getting people to join the union, says it is “fantastic” that recognition could happen soon. He said a union was needed because the management sometimes feels as if it has no humanity. Having a union, he said, was “about having that person on your side. It’s about having protection in your back pocket.”
The Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) could be asked to step in if Amazon does not grant recognition. The CAC could automatically grant recognition if it is persuaded that a majority of the workforce wants the union to represent them. The workforce could be required to vote to show its support for this.