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Amazon taken to tribunal in union membership row

AMAZON is facing claims that it victimised a Scottish worker who joined a trade union, The Herald can reveal.

The internet retail giant is being taken to a tribunal by a former employee of the month who says he was picked on because of membership of the GMB.

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Joe Ellis claims his working life was made intolerable at the US company’s warehouse in Gourock after he tried – and failed – to get a union rep to accompany him to an internal meeting. His case will reignite union concerns over Amazon’s alleged “union-bashing”.

The company, which last month announced 950 jobs at a new warehouse or “fulfilment centre” in Dunfermline thanks to £2.5 million in Scottish Enterprise grants, has never hidden its antipathy to organised labour. Amazon, however, yesterday insisted it allowed employees to have union reps in meetings.

But Mr Ellis is equally insistent his GMB official had been refused entry to the company’s Gourock warehouse and that his career suffered after he made his union affiliation known.

The 40-year-old resigned almost a year ago after a series of run-ins with management following his attempts to be represented by his union.

The Herald understands he is the first employee to take Amazon to an employment tribunal in Scotland, claiming trade union victimisation.

Mr Ellis, who alleges constructive dismissal and union victimisation, said: “I was at Amazon for five years and would still be there now if I hadn’t tried to bring my union rep into the building.”

The Herald has obtained internal Amazon papers that show the company’s most senior manager in Gourock failing to rule out “repercussions” for workers who joined a union.

Sandy Davidson, speaking to a meeting of “all hands” or employees at the warehouse a year ago, was asked directly if there would be consequences for those workers who join a union.

He replied. “I can’t say whether there would or wouldn’t be repercussions. Amazon prefers to consult with its employees through other means.”

It would be illegal for any employee to face repercussions for joining a union.

The company has faced similar challenges in England. It has successfully fought off demands for union recognition in its English warehouses. Staff were issued with “Vote No” T-shirts.

Amazon yesterday failed to respond to questions about the Ellis case, or Mr Davidson’s remarks on repercussions for union members. A spokesman did say workers were “always permitted to be accompanied by a trade union representative during formal meetings”.

He added: “Amazon.co.uk recognises that its employees have the right to seek union representation should they so chose. However, our employees have clearly indicated a preference for a close, direct working relationship with Amazon.co.uk and its management without the involvement of any third party.”

The company’s US-style management has already raised eyebrows in Scotland. The Herald last year revealed that some temporary workers had been sent home in the middle of the night after their shifts were cut short without warning.

Paisley MSP Hugh Henry last night said: “What worries me about Amazon is that this fits into a pattern where workers’ rights are ignored and workers are treated like dirt.

“Much as we appreciate the jobs that are created by companies like Amazon, there has to come a point when we tell companies that what they are doing is wrong.”

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