Amazon's potential union challenges in the UK in 2025

(widely reported, but this is one of the more comprehensive reports)

Deputy leader Angela Rayner states if the Labour party wins the next general election in the UK (due before 2025), then they have committed to bringing a labour reform bill to their first parliamentary session (speech says 100 days).

Labour (incorporating the related CoOp party, yes the retail stores sponsors a party) has been polling better recently than it has for some years, although there are structural political challenges across the UK which may result in a minority Conservative government or a Labour coalition with nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales, so it is by no means certain that these potential changes to labour laws will be passed.

Rayner proposed that this will include that unions will have guaranteed right of access to workplaces and guaranteed recognition (leading to collective bargaining and right of employee who have union membership to have union representation in labour relations matters, individual or as a group). May include banning of zero hour contracts. (UK law already states that zero hour contracts cannot be exclusive, and cannot discriminate if the employee refuses hours offered; unsure if contracts that offer e.g 8-16 hours have similar considerations). Salaried workers and office based workers can also unionise. However, union recognition does not automatically mandate workers join a union to take up work or continue work (the “closed shop” concept was outlawed in the UK in the 1990’s)

Amazon is now one of the UK’s bigger employers, and has been subject to attempts to unionise some of its sites with limited success, but such changes to law makes unionisation more likely. Of course Amazon could try and “foster” the creation of a friendly union for its sites (and there would potentially be competition between some of the bigger unions for Amazon’s warehouse sites, in the same way that Tesco’s warehouses were not all with the same union (shops and head office were the same union as some warehouses, and union contractual agreements differed between older warehouses).

These labour law changes would potentially would also affect newer commerce/qcommerce businesses in the UK as well as some fulfilment companies; many existing omnichannel/B&M retail businesses are already unionised (at least in part) although that has reduced over time, and Royal Mail is unionised. Employee controlled businesses (e.g. John Lewis, Riverford Organic) can be unionised but don’t tend to be, and generally employees can in any case join a union to access certain benefits (or for political reasons) even if the employer doesn’t recognise any union (or the specific one the employee joins).

The likely outcome is some increase in operating costs of UK based ecommerce and omnichannel retail, but maybe only a modest increase.

Are unions in the UK just as disruptive as German unions that appear during festive seasons?

Mostly, no.

Announcement or winning of a strike ballot is often enough to get the employer to come to the negotiating table.

Unions involved in various kinds of transport, yes.