Last week, Jef Bezos, the richest man in the world and founder of Amazon, announced a wage increase for Amazon employees in the UK and US. In the UK the minimum hourly wage will increase from £8 to £9.50 and in the US it will go up from $7.25 to $15.
The announcement has been followed by a wave of positive publicity, as 37,000 employees in the UK will potentially benefit.
However, the wave is starting to break as staff unbox the new deal. The change in pay structure has eliminated some workers stock options and bonus programs, which could cost workers £1,500 a year. Moreover, Bezos has not announced any substantial reform to working conditions in the warehouses.
Removing the stock option means workers will lose half of their wage increase, which GMB says amounts to ‘a stealth tax on its own wage increase.’ It is also rumoured that workers will have their Christmas bonus removed, however Amazon claims no such bonus exists. Whatever murky truth lies beneath the glossy headlines, Amazon workers will still be poorly paid.
So was this just a publicity stunt to appease the political pressure that was mounting on Bezos? He said last Tuesday ‘we listened to our critics and decided we want to lead.’ It seems clear to anyone, however, that Bezos is not the leading figure on fair wages. This hike has as much to do with the market pressure of retaining employees at competitive levels as it does with the political pressure that has been applauded this week.
Bezos has built his wealth to approximately $167bn through exploiting workers, and so the implication that he is a leader in terms of workers rights is beyond ironic.
Ultimately Bezos wants low skilled jobs to be replaced by unpaid robots. Drone delivery will be launched in the UK within a year and Amazon warehouses rely a lot on their cutting-edge technology to minimise the need for employees.
As a customer, the Amazon experience is second to none. You wouldn’t get your products at such ease and low cost without Amazon’s warehouses. But the human cost of this is an exploited workforce. Indeed, 89% of UK Amazon employees felt exploited in 2017.
There have been reports of workers camping outside warehouses because they cannot afford the bus, a woman late in labour being forced to spend ten hours on the shop floor and a shocking 600 ambulance calls made to UK Amazon warehouses in three years. One worker told GMB that working in an Amazon warehouse was akin to ‘living in a prison.’
The ease of Amazon must not stop us from thinking, and, as consumers, we must consider in what sort of market we want to shop. While increasing wages is a start, it is not clear how better off employees will be financially and crucially there will be little change to the conditions workers endure.
But while Amazon is allowed to write its own rules, any improvements will be on billionaire Bezos’s terms. We have the power to create regulations for Amazon to exist within. Just as the Unions forced an end to the deadly working conditions of Industrialisation in Victorian Britain, collective action could help again. This time it could be the collective action of consumers. Regulations are essential, but they should be set by the due political process, not by the world’s richest man. Until such regulations are in place, as consumers we must vote with our feet and stop using Amazon.