GMB starts ballot process to be recognised at Amazon’s Coventry warehouse

<span>If workers at Amazon in Coventry vote to support recognition, it will mark the first time the tech company has recognised a union in the UK.</span><span>Photograph: Andrew Fox/The Guardian</span>
If workers at Amazon in Coventry vote to support recognition, it will mark the first time the tech company has recognised a union in the UK.Photograph: Andrew Fox/The Guardian

Officials from the GMB are urging staff at Amazon’s Coventry warehouse to “together, vote yes”, at the start of a month-long ballot process that could trigger a historic union recognition deal.

Officials from the union began visiting the West Midlands site on Wednesday after the GMB was granted the right to hold the legally binding ballot by the independent Central Arbitration Committee. Amazon had rejected a request for voluntary recognition.

If staff vote to support recognition, the GMB would be given the right to represent them in negotiations over pay and conditions, marking the first time Amazon has recognised a union in the UK.

From Wednesday, more than 3,000 staff began attending a series of 45-minute meetings with union representatives – and separate gatherings with the company – at which the two sides will make their case.

Voting will then take place in the workplace from 8 July, with the result announced after 15 July.

“It’s quite a steep hill that we’ve got to climb, but we’re feeling positive,” said Amanda Gearing, a senior GMB organiser, speaking after the first round of meetings.

“All of the messages we’re putting out have come from our leaders inside Amazon, and they’re saying they’ve had enough of being treated the way they’ve been treated and they want their voices to be heard.”

Staff inside the vast warehouse have previously complained of what they saw as anti-union tactics by Amazon, including QR codes displayed around the building which, when scanned, generated an email to the GMB cancelling union membership.

The ballot marks the latest stage in a decade-long drive by the GMB to build up a presence inside the company. Staff in Coventry have been taking strike action for more than a year, demanding pay of £15 an hour and a seat at the table in negotiations.

They were joined on the picket line on Black Friday last November by trade unionists from Amazon’s businesses in the US and continental Europe.

If the union wins the recognition ballot, it will echo the success of trade unionists at an Amazon site in New York who have fought for the right to organise.

To secure recognition, the GMB will need to win a majority of support in the ballot. The “yes” voters must also represent at least 40% of the workers on site.

Labour has promised a plan to give unions more powers as part of a “new deal for working people” if it wins power at the general election on 4 July.

The general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Paul Nowak, said: “This is a vital chance for Amazon workers to secure better pay, conditions and an independent voice at work.

“Instead of valuing their workforce the company has thrown the kitchen sink at trying to stop workers organising. Their union-busting behaviour should have no place in modern Britain and shows why a new deal for working people is so badly needed.”

A spokesperson for Amazon said: “Our employees have the choice of whether or not to join a union. They always have. Across Amazon we place enormous value on having daily conversations and engagement with our employees. It’s a strong part of our work culture. We value that direct relationship and so do our employees.”

The spokesperson added that minimum starting pay across the company had increased by 20% over two years to between £12.30 and £13 an hour.