Public view Amazon staff as ‘key workers’ who deserve trade union rights – poll

Amazon workers have a long history of agitating for change. The public now support the fight to give Amazon staff trade union rights.

As the online shopping extravaganza of Amazon Prime Day gets under way, a new poll reveals people’s discontent with the current status-quo involving Amazon workers.

The poll shows that since the pandemic hit, Amazon workers are more greatly valued by the public, which deem them as “key workers.”

This escalating respect for Amazon workers post-pandemic includes strong public support for Unite’s campaign to secure trade union rights for individuals directly and indirectly employed by Amazon.

A ‘declaration of neutrality’

In March this year, Unite – the UK’s largest union – launched an ‘Action on Amazon’ campaign. In a bid to protect staff, the campaign calls for a union to be formed and for Amazon employees to receive a greater share of Amazon’s profits.

The trade union is calling on Jeff Bezos – Amazon’s founder and CEO – to sign a declaration of neutrality, which would guarantee Amazon workers have the freedom to talk with and form a union.

Unite’s drive to protect the rights of Amazon workers includes a confidential whistle-blowing hotline, which is open in the UK and Ireland. The hotline enables Amazon staff to blow the whistle and expose any alleged poor treatment by their employer, free from reprisals.

Amazon doubled its profits in 2020

In 2020, Amazon doubled its profits, as lockdown forced people to shop online. Unite acknowledges the essential work Amazon staff have done throughout the pandemic.

The poll shows that the public share the union’s support for Amazon workers and call for these “key workers” to have greater rights and protections.

More than three quarters of the 2,000 UK residents surveyed for the poll said that Amazon workers should be able to join a trade union without interference from the US ecommerce giants. A similar number believe Amazon has a responsibility to provide its “gig economy” workers, who it indirectly employs, with fairer working conditions.

Support for measures to force Amazon to be a fairer employer

68% are in support for the government ensuring that companies like Amazon which are awarded government contracts, have effective trade union recognition. Interestingly, 64% of those polled who voted Conservative in 2019 support this proposal, compared to 75% in support who voted Labour.

77% are in support of the government only being able to grant contracts to companies which commit to fair working practices. Such practices should include fair pay, training, and trade union recognition.

Sharon Graham, Unite’s executive officer, commented on the esteemed status of Amazon staff and the bid to treat them fairly:

“Amazon workers have played a crucial part in people’s lives during the pandemic and the public expects fair employment practices and decent terms and conditions.
“Amazon attacks all attempts by workers to gain a collective voice of their own, but it is now time for a new settlement. The public strongly supports Amazon workers’ right to trade union representation regardless of whether the workers are directly employed or if they work in the gig economy.
“Unite is calling on Jeff Bezos to back a declaration which guarantees that Amazon workers in the UK and Ireland have the freedom to talk with and form a union without fear. Our union is campaigning up and down the country. We are determined to win trade union rights for Amazon workers,” Graham continued.

In stark contrast to Amazon’s anti-trade union tactics

According to Unite, the bid to improve and protect the rights of Amazon workers and public support to secure trade union powers for staff, contrasts starkly to Amazon’s current model of employment.

Amazon workers have a long history of agitating for change. Protests have been held in demand of safer working conditions. Online petitions have been circulated to bring awareness to the plight of the likes of Amazon warehouse and delivery staff.

Since founding in 1994, Amazon has managed to keep unions out of its ranks. Not only has the corporation successfully averted trade unions from being part of its employment operations, but reports have surfaced about the company actively monitoring employees in an attempt to stamp out activism.

In September 2020, Vice reported that the company’s HR department appeared to be monitoring workers’ electronic mailing lists that were hotspots for employee activism. A separate report found that Amazon’s corporate members of staff were watching closed Facebook groups used by contracted Flex drivers to track any organised activity and planned strikes.

Left Foot Forward contacted Amazon UK about whether their workers should be allowed to talk with and form unions ‘without fear.’ We also asked if Amazon agrees with the public that its staff are key workers and should be treated with the accompanied respect of key workers?

A spokesperson at Amazon UK told us:

“We respect our employees’ right to join, form, or not to join a labour union or other lawful organisation of their own selection, without fear of reprisal, intimidation, or harassment. Across Amazon, including in our fulfilment centres, we place enormous value on having daily conversations with each associate and work to make sure direct engagement with our employees is a strong part of our work culture.

“The fact is, we already offer excellent pay, excellent benefits and excellent opportunities for career growth, all while working in a safe, modern work environment. The unions know this.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a freelance journalist and contributing editor to Left Foot Forward.

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