03/10/2018 - Cautious welcome for Amazon wage increases

Jeff Bezos 2016Pressure from union and social activists and Bernie Sanders' famous Stop BEZOS Act, Amazon has announced a pay increase for all workers inside the US to $15 an hour as of next month. The federal minimum wage is currently just $7.25. In the UK, pay will rise from £8.20 an hour in London to £10.50, while outside London the rate rises from £8 an hour to £9.50. In a rare moment of agreement White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow told CNBC, "Good for them. I'm in favor of higher wages" and veteran socialist Senator Bernie Sanders said at a Tuesday news conference, "I want to give credit where credit it due."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, has personally taken on Amazon as an example of worker exploitation by powerful companies in the United States. In September, Sanders introduced the “Stop Bad Employers Zeroing Out Subsidies Act” (aka the Stop BEZOS Act) that would penalize large companies if their workers are relying on government benefits like food stamps or Medicaid to survive.

“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead,” Bezos (pictured) said in a statement. “We’re excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us.”

The move will benefit 250,000 workers in the US, 17,000 in the UK and tens of thousands of seasonal workers.

Tim Roache, the general secretary of the UK's GMB union, welcomed the announcement but said more needed to be done: "Given their owner is the richest man in the world you'd think he could see fit to dig a little deeper, but it's a start.

Mr Roache said that 90% of the GMB Amazon members had said they experienced "constant pain at work".

The union said Amazon did not allow it to operate under its roof.

TUC general secretary, Frances O'Grady, said: "If Amazon is really serious about looking after its workforce it must recognise trade unions.

"Today's announcement is... only a start and shouldn't be spun as a huge act of generosity."

Pat Harrington, general secretary of Solidarity commented: "Well, this is of course a good thing. Yet we should recognise that the labour market in the US is favouring workers more with lower unemployment (the US unemployment rate recently dipped below 4 percent). We should also note that Amazon is at the forefront of introducing robotics which will lower human job numbers. In the end we will be talking about wealth redistribution more than wages but now this is an important step. Amazon will ultimately be judged on how it treats workers in the round and what contribution it makes to society (including tax payments, where it has a poor record)."