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Amid CWU concerns, Amazon says unions are not 'the best answer' for its new Irish workers

Amazon had opened its first Irish ‘fulfilment centre’ this week.

The Amazon fulfilment centre in Baldonnell.
The Amazon fulfilment centre in Baldonnell.
Image: Sasko Lazarov

AN IRISH TRADE union has raised concerns about a potential negative impact on pay for logistics workers after Amazon opened its first so-called ‘fulfilment centre’ in Ireland this week.

The Journal first reported this week that the massive warehouse had opened in Baldonnell in Co Dublin, with the centre being the first of its kind in the Republic of Ireland. The online shopping giant already runs a smaller delivery warehouse in nearby Rathcoole.  

The company confirmed that around 500 jobs would be created at the new site and that hiring is currently underway.

However, responding to the union concerns, a spokesperson for Amazon told The Journal it didn’t believe that unions were “the best answer” for its employees in Ireland. 

UK walkouts 

The concerns over the company’s relations with its workers – raised by the Communications Workers Union (CWU) – come amid amid walkouts by staff at Amazon in the UK.

In southeast England, hundreds of Amazon workers walked out on Wednesday and Thursday over a pay dispute.

Around 800 workers walked out over a 35 pence per hour pay rise. The GMB union had sought a £2 (€2.37) increase to help deal with the rising cost of living.

In Ireland, the Communications Workers Union (CWU), which represent workers in the postal and logistics sector, said that they were concerned about whether the company’s expanded presence in Ireland could impact on workers’ wages.

“The potential for an operator of this scale to have a downward influence on existing pay and conditions in the industry is of particular concern,” said Seán McDonagh, the General Secretary of the CWU.

It’s understood that wages at the new site are set to begin at €13.50 an hour.

McDonagh said that the union wanted to see Amazon respect Irish industrial relations mechanisms, particularly around union membership for its workers.

“It is well known that Amazon does not have a positive history globally, in terms of good industrial relations and in its treatment of workers. It is of major concern that the company is anti-trade union,” McDonagh said.

The CWU is aware that Amazon workers in other countries, including the USA, are organising through trade unions to better progress and defend their rights and interests.

This includes the first US union, which was formed in New York in April by a former Amazon worker, Christian Smalls.

“We also have no guarantees that deliveries will not include a reliance on the gig economy and low paid contractors and the CWU would wish to talk to Amazon on a range of issues that will benefit their employees and contractors and ensure that the company respects the industrial relations machinery that we have in the state,” added McDonagh.

When asked for a response about concerns around unionisation, a spokesperson for Amazon said that while employees can choose to join a union, the multinational doesn’t believe it is their best option.

“As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees. Every day we empower people to find ways to improve their jobs, and when they do that we want to make those changes—quickly.

“That type of continuous improvement is harder to do quickly and nimbly with unions in the middle.

The spokesperson said the company had made “great progress” in recent years and months “in important areas like pay and safety”.

An Post services

McDonagh also queried how the opening of the new warehouse would impact on other carriers, particularly An Post.

“The expansion of Amazon’s operation in Ireland could potentially have a negative impact on other carriers, most notably on the national carrier An Post, which throughout Covid demonstrated it is an essential service, supporting small businesses, particularly in rural Ireland, and in the economy as a whole.”

However, a spokesperson for An Post said that it welcomed the opening of the new warehouse.

“We welcome the opening of the new centre as it enables us to provide a quicker service for our customers and keep pace with the growth of online shopping and ecommerce,” the spokesperson said.

We work very closely with Amazon, one of our many large customers, to provide top quality parcel processing and deliveries of Amazon products.

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Tadgh McNally

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