From the TUC

Amazon need to make work pay before they expand further in UK

26 Feb 2014, By Guest

Amazon.co.uk’s refusal to pay its fair share of taxes or to treat its workers properly is giving it an unfair competitive advantage.

The high tech way Amazon processes orders and tracks inventory disguises that it is also a traditional labour-intensive mail order retail business. They already operate huge warehouses in Croydon, Doncaster, Dunfermline, Gourock, Hemel Hemstead, Milton Keynes, Peterborough, Rugeley and Swansea.

Amazon 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. You might not see a real person in your interactions with the online store, but it still 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.

The company is a poster child for the new low pay, low security jobs that have been growing in number in recent years. Many staff at Amazon are actually employed through agencies in casual or temporary jobs with no job security and no guaranteed incomes. It’s the modern equivalent of selection at the dock gates in Victorian times and is casual labour of the worst kind.

Amazon pays its staff just above the national minimum wage of £6.31 per hour. Indeed for Amazon staff the Minimum Wage has become the Maximum as it serves to peg their wages back. 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. Our GMB members within Amazon say it is human automation – they are kind of robots with no say. Any trade union activity in the company has to be kept underground for fear of reprisals.

And despite their use of taxpayer subsidy of their low wages and to provide infrastructure, they seem reluctant to pay their fair share of taxes. In 2006 Amazon transferred its UK business to Luxembourg and reclassified its UK operation as simply “order fulfilment” business, so as to qualify for lower taxes. The Luxembourg office employs 380 people. The UK operation employs 15,000. We estimate that they have paid just £1.8m corporation tax on £6.65bn sales in the two financial years 2011/12 and 2012/3. Less than 0.2%. This abuse has to stop. In GMB’s experience tax dodging employers tend to be wage dodging employers too.

We’re backing a grassroots online petition that was started by campaigner Emily Kenway after she saw Panorama’s exposé of working conditions in Amazon’s warehouses. The petition will be handed in at the end of this week, but has already reached a total of 55,000 signatures, calling on Amazon to step up to their responsibilities and pay their workers a living wage.

It’ll take much more than one petition to fix all the problems with Amazon’s predatory business model – we need the right for staff to meet with GMB at work, wages and working hours that people can live on, and a more responsible attitude to their tax affairs – but what 55,000 of their customers are calling for here would be a good start and would make a big difference to their workers. Please take a moment to add your own name too.

Sign the petition now!

4 Responses to Amazon need to make work pay before they expand further in UK

  1. Frank Podmore
    Feb 26th 2014, 12:12 pm

    Boycott Amazon!

    A petition is fine (and I will sign it!) but the best solution is to boycott Amazon. There are plenty of other websites that allow you to make purchases and wishlists, that pay their taxes and don’t exploit workers or hoard information on their users.

  2. Dean Gilligan
    Feb 26th 2014, 8:41 pm

    Boycott boycott boycott

  3. Sue MacFarlane
    Feb 27th 2014, 12:35 pm

    Only one way to deal with this, and that is to educate people to what is happening and get them to boycott Amazon. The only thing these people understand is profit. If these practices affect their bottom line, they will change. When we feel powerless, we need to remember what we CAN do – spend our money somewhere else. I can’t remember the last time I bought anything from amazon.

  4. Martin Smith
    Mar 2nd 2014, 12:56 pm

    By all means individuals should boycott Amazon if they can. But it’s not enough. Many Amazon customers don’t choose to use them any more than Google customers do. For those who feel forced or tricked into using Amazon – and even for those who can boycott – the best solution is to support Amazon staff to organise to end their exploitation or get involved in local campaigns to stop the Council subsidies and protect the high street or join direct actions to expose their tax dodging alongside outfits like UKUncut. Sadly we won’t civilise Amazon anytime soon by personal boycotts alone.