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Hundreds of Amazon staff in Essex stop work in protest at 35p pay rise | Amazon

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Hundreds of Amazon employees have stopped work at the online retailer’s warehouse in Tilbury in Essex in response to a pay rise of only 35p – about 3% – compared with inflation that is now forecast to hit 13% later this year.

The GMB union said about 700 of the roughly 3,500 workers at the site, which is one of Amazon’s largest in Europe, gathered in the facility’s canteen for a meeting as they tried to register a protest against the pay deal.

It is understood workers at the facility earn a minimum of £11.10 an hour, with those employed for at least three years on a minimum of £11.35. They are calling for a £2-an-hour raise but both groups are being offered the 35p deal.

One worker inside the warehouse posted a video in which they accused Amazon of treating them “like slaves”. “See people what’s going on,” the post on TikTok said. “Keep fight for us and our family.”

The action comes as Amazon faces increasing pressure to improve treatment of its warehouse workers, including from some shareholders.

The company reported its second quarterly loss in a row last month amid rising costs of fuel, energy and transport, but said it was trying to offset that by making its delivery network more efficient.

Steve Garelick, a regional organiser at GMB, said some workers had faced disciplinary action and a withdrawal of pay over the stoppage that began on Wednesday night and continued into Thursday.

“Amazon have removed pay from hundreds of workers at Tilbury Essex as well as scouring social media to see who is uploading videos. Instead of disciplinary procedures because of reputation, Amazon should sort their reputation with staff. Pay a decent increase, not 35p,” he tweeted.

Amazon denied there had been any disciplinary action.

Amazon does not recognise trade unions in its UK warehouses, or in most other countries around the world, but GMB said it would support members on site who had faced disciplinary procedures.

In April, Amazon workers in New York voted to form a union in efforts to secure longer breaks, paid time off for injured employees and an hourly wage of $30 (£24.70), up from a minimum of just over $18 an hour offered by the company.

The rising cost of living has led to a spate of industrial action across the UK, including by railway staff, BT workers and dockers as families struggle to cope with the cost of living crisis.

The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “Workers across the economy are seeing the value of their pay packets fall. Soaring prices are adding to the longest pay squeeze for 200 years. Workers and their unions are fighting for decent pay rises across the economy.”

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Amazon said: “Starting pay for Amazon employees will be increasing to a minimum of between £10.50 and £11.45 per hour, depending on location. This is for all full-time, part-time, seasonal and temporary roles in the UK.

“In addition to this competitive pay, employees are offered a comprehensive benefits package that includes private medical insurance, life assurance, income protection, subsidised meals and an employee discount among others, which combined are worth thousands annually, as well as a company pension plan.”

Pay at Amazon has risen from a minimum of £9.50 in 2018 to a current starting rate of £10.50 – well above the £9.50 legal minimum for those aged 23 and over and higher than the £10.10 an hour on offer in many major supermarkets. Heavy competition for warehouse workers during the pandemic led Amazon to offer hiring bonuses of up to £3,000 last autumn.

However, delivery drivers have complained of real-terms pay cuts since the peak season last year as shoppers have returned to high street stores after the lifting of Covid restrictions.



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‘A sweatshop in the UK’: how the cost of living crisis triggered walkouts at Amazon | Industrial action

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Amazon workers say they are working in a “sweatshop” as safety concerns and worries about the cost of living crisis have triggered walkouts at warehouses around the country.

The Observer has spoken to four staff involved in the walkouts, who work at three Amazon warehouses, including Tilbury in Essex, where protests began on 4 August. All say they will struggle to survive this winter with pay rise offers between 35p and 50p an hour – far less than the rate of inflation, which is currently at 9.4%.

The workers, who spoke anonymously for fear of reprisals from Amazon, said they were speaking out to highlight how the firm’s ultra-cheap, ultra-convenient, super-fast delivery model works.

Amazon employs more than 70,000 people in the UK, adding 25,000 staff in 2021 alone. Many work at the company’s 21 fulfilment centres, where some workers say they are asked to carry out long, physical shifts, with difficult targets, for low pay.

Starting pay in Amazon warehouses will shortly be increasing to between £10.50 and £11.45 per hour, depending on location. An Amazon spokesperson said this was a 29% increase in the minimum hourly wage paid to staff since 2018. They said it is also augmented by a comprehensive benefits package worth thousands of pounds a year, and a company pension plan.

But staff say it is too low for the type of work being done and given the current economic crisis, especially at a company that just posted $121bn (£100bn) in revenues in the second quarter of 2022 alone.

“When we heard the news, it was shocking,” said one worker at Amazon’s warehouse in Tilbury. “It’s ridiculous. Inflation is [forecast to reach] 13%, and our salary increases barely 3%.” The worker rents a house with her husband for £1,350 a month without bills. “My salary is £1,600. … I’m lucky I’m married, otherwise I’d be homeless.”

Some staff are seeking a pay rise of £2 an hour from the tech giant.

Hundreds of Amazon employees stop working over disputed pay rise – video

Another worker at Amazon’s warehouse in Tilbury said they were “petrified” about how they would survive this winter. “We had a scenario recently where someone was living in [an] Amazon [warehouse],” he said. “If I’m honest, I can probably see that happening again.

“I can see people staying in the canteen all the time because they can’t afford to go home.”

The worker is protesting against the poor pay offer, as well as conditions that lock staff in cages for entire shifts at the warehouses, from where they pick items to be delivered to customers. (Amazon says the workstations are to protect workers from moving robotics.)

“It’s a Chinese sweatshop in the UK,” said the second worker at Tilbury. “It’s how they set up their model.”

The worker has struggled with his mental health while working for the company. “I’ve realised how bad Amazon is for my mental health,” he said. “The anxiety of going into work, knowing you’ve got to do the same stuff day in, day out, is horrible.”

That concern is echoed by a worker at an Amazon facility near Bristol, who has worked there with his wife for three years. “It was good initially,” the worker said. “There was a lot of safety consciousness, and the targets were pretty reasonable. But now they’re just pushing it higher and higher, and exploiting people.”

Around 100 Amazon staff at Bristol staged a sit-in at the company canteen on 10 August – action for which they say they were docked pay by management at the site. “The vast majority of people went back to work at that point, because at the end of the day, as much as they want to fight for it, they have to think about themselves financially.”

The Bristol warehouse worker says that managers used to stop employees from lifting heavy items from bins on high shelves in the warehouse without a ladder. “If you overstretched yourself for 10 hours, you’d end up with a bad neck and a bad back,” he said.

That has subsequently changed as staff said they felt pressured to meet ever-escalating demand. Staff pushing carts around the warehouse used to be limited to using one cart at a time for safety reasons; now it is claimed managers turn a blind eye to staff pulling two carts at once. “They don’t say nothing because all they care about is getting the work done as fast as possible,” he said. “Safety just goes out the window.”

He says he has personally lifted items weighing up to 25kg by himself, despite rules saying anything heavier than 15kg should be lifted by two people.

A worker at an Amazon facility in the north-west of England said that managers at his warehouse similarly ignored rules around not running on site and lifting down heavy items from high areas in an attempt to meet targets, which at his site require two items to be picked every minute.

Amazon declined to respond to specific claims.

Martha Dark, director at Foxglove, a non-profit organisation working to highlight issues within tech companies that supports Amazon workers, said: “None of the workers we’re supporting wanted to protest.

“They’re desperate and can’t survive on these wages. Meanwhile, Amazon threatens to dock pay and send workers to HR for revealing the truth about life in the warehouse.”

She added: “Amazon needs to respect workers’ rights to organise, stop penalising people who are fighting to survive and provide a real pay rise now.”

Two workers said they plan to leave the company because of the conditions and pay. However, some hope to stay put – to change things.

“If a lot of us who are experienced leave Amazon at this point they’ll get a new group of people in who they can mould into this depressing way of work,” said the Bristol worker. “That’s the problem.”

This article was amended on 14 August 2022. Inflation is at 9.4%, not 13% as stated in an earlier version; the latter is a forecast rate.

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AI could save future firefighters from deadly explosions • The Register

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AI could help save firefighters’ lives by predicting fire flashovers before they occur, according to new research published this week. 

Flashovers occur when combustible material in a room suddenly starts igniting all at once, leading to a huge surge of heat and flammable gases that can break walls and burst windows. Around 800 firefighters have been killed and more than 320,000 injured on the job in the US over a 10-year period, from 2008 to 2018, and it is estimated that 13 per cent of those accidents are the result of flashover events.

Firefighters have to rely on their experience to predict if a flashover is about to happen, such as judging from levels of smoke and heat, but it’s not easy considering how quickly they can creep up. Computer scientists have tried to develop methods capable of detecting flashovers in real time for the last two decades, but it’s a difficult task to model something so erratic.

Researchers from the US government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Google, as well as the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the China University of Petroleum, built a system using graph neural networks (GNN) to learn relationships between different sources of data, represented as nodes and edges, from simulated fires.

“GNNs are frequently used for estimated time of arrival, or ETA, in traffic where you can be analyzing 10 to 50 different roads.” Eugene Yujun Fu, the study’s co-first author and a research assistant professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said in a statement.

“It’s very complicated to properly make use of that kind of information simultaneously, so that’s where we got the idea to use GNNs. Except for our application, we’re looking at rooms instead of roads and are predicting flashover events instead of ETA in traffic.”

The team simulated all sorts of data, from building layouts, surface materials, fire conditions, ventilation configurations, location of smoke detectors, and temperature profiles of rooms to model 41,000 fake fires in 17 different building types. A total of 25,000 fire cases were used to train the model, and the remaining 16,000 were used to finetune and test it.

The GNN’s performance was assessed by whether it was able to predict whether a flashover event would occur within the next 30 seconds. Initial results showed the model had an accuracy of 92.1 percent at best. 

The system, dubbed FlashNet, is more advanced than the team’s previous machine learning model P-Flash.

“Our previous model only had to consider four or five rooms in one layout, but when the layout switches and you have 13 or 14 rooms, it can be a nightmare for the model,” said Wai Cheong Tam, co-first author of paper and a mechanical engineer at NIST. “For real-world application, we believe the key is to move to a generalized model that works for many different buildings.”

FlashNet may seem promising, but it is yet to be tested with data from real fire rescues. That would require the model to analyze data from thermostats, carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, in smart homes, Tam explained to The Register. How firefighters could then be alerted to the model’s predictions is unclear.

“The focus of the research was to rely on building data that is or could easily be provided from available building sensors. One way to translate the research into reality is to integrate the model into a smart fire alarm control panel that would gather the temperature data from installed heat detectors and includes a computer module that can process the data and make the real-time predictions.”

“From the fire alarm control panel or other suitable piece of equipment, the prediction would be sent to the incident commander, or individual firefighters if deemed suitable. The exact mechanism of providing such predictive analytics is not decided and would require input from the fire service to develop a consensus,” Tam concluded. ®

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Enjoying the sun? So could our national grid with more solar power

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The Irish Solar Energy Association has called on EirGrid to not let sunny days go to waste and connect solar farms to the grid at scale.

Thousands will be flocking to beaches across the country this weekend as Ireland continues to experience what many are calling a heatwave for days in a row.

But a refreshing swim and a light tan (hopefully not a sunburn) are not the only benefits of the scorching sun so rarely seen on this island. With amber alerts issued for two days in a row this week, Ireland’s electricity market could do with a much needed solar power boost.

“As the country is enjoying a prolonged spell of sunny weather, it is worth remembering that the sunshine can be used for more than recreation,” said Conall Bolger, CEO of the Irish Solar Energy Association (ISEA).

“Ireland has huge potential to generate solar energy to support the national grid. This will be most important in periods of fine weather as, typically speaking, it is less windy.”

‘The sunlight falling on Ireland is a natural resource. Every day we are not making use of it, is a lost opportunity’
– CONALL BOLGER

Bolger is calling on EirGrid, which operates Ireland’s electricity grid, to develop the network necessary to connect solar farms at scale. The aim is to address the narrow gap between electricity supply and demand highlighted by the amber alerts, which are likely to get more frequent in coming years.

“There is no shortage of daylight and no shortage of ambition to utilise this to generate solar energy,” he went on.

“However, one of the most significant factors impacting solar’s delivery is the ability of the national grid to take that power. EirGrid needs to be developing the backbone of the network so that it can accept that green electricity.”

When the Government published the €125bn Climate Action Plan 2021 last November, Bolger welcomed the ambition of an up to 81pc reduction in emissions for the electricity sector, but was quick to warn that it must be backed by action. The success of this plan will depend on the pace of its delivery, he said.

“Achieving this target will require a strong contribution from solar,” he said at the time, adding that a target of 1.5 to 2.5GW for solar energy “underestimates” the potential of the sector. “ISEA estimate Ireland could deliver 6GW of solar this decade if the right conditions are provided.”

Last month, the Government announced a significant increase in its target for solar energy, now aiming for 5.5GW by the end of the decade. The move was welcomed by the ISEA.

Bolger said 2022 has been a major year for solar energy in Ireland so far. The first-ever solar farm was connected to the national grid in Millvale, Wicklow earlier this year, with several others in progress.

“The sunlight falling on Ireland is a natural resource. Every day we are not making use of it, is a lost opportunity,” said Bolger.

“In the context of the climate emergency and security of supply issues, this is no longer acceptable, and we need firm commitments on actual network delivery to avoid future problems.”

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