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Amazon facing UK box shortages for Black Friday as DS Smith workers vote to strike

<span>Photograph: David Burton/Alamy</span>
Photograph: David Burton/Alamy

Amazon and several other major retailers are facing possible cardboard box shortages during the busy Black Friday shopping period after workers at a packaging company voted to take strike action as part of a pay dispute.

Nearly 700 members of the GMB union working at DS Smith – which makes corrugated packaging for brands including drinks company Diageo, biscuit maker McVitie’s and brewer BrewDog as well as for Amazon – could take industrial action before the end of November.

Many retailers run promotions around Black Friday, the final Friday in November, which is due to take place this year on the 25th of the month. Higher sales volumes lead to increased demand for packaging by retailers as they send their products to stores or customers.

In total, 93% of GMB members at DS Smith voted in favour of a strike following the company’s pay offer, which the union is calling a “real terms pay cut”. Inflation in the UK rose back above 10% in September, the highest level in 40 years, according to official figures.

DS Smith has offered workers a 3% pay rise along with a consolidated payment for the coming year of £760. Workers at five of its sites – Louth, Lincolnshire; Featherstone in Yorkshire; Clay Cross in Derbyshire; Devizes in Wiltshire and Livingston in Scotland – could take part in a strike.

Eamon O’Hearn, national secretary at GMB, said DS Smith staff worked throughout the pandemic, and called on the company to improve its pay offer.

“A strike at DS Smith could have serious implications across a range of household names – not least Amazon which gets packaging from the company,” O’Hearn said. “DS Smith can afford to do better – they need to table a serious offer that respects the contribution of our members, to nip this industrial action in the bud.”

The company, which also makes packaging for McCoy’s crisps maker KP Snacks and food and drinks producer PepsiCo, said it was “disappointed” by the vote for strike action “particularly at a crucial time for all of our customers”.

A spokesperson for DS Smith said: “Negotiations are ongoing with unions and we aim to find a solution that works for everybody. We take our customers’ needs extremely seriously and we have robust contingency plans in place to deliver the best possible service.”

Customers starting their Christmas shopping around Black Friday could also see deliveries of online purchases disrupted after Royal Mail workers announced two 48-hour strikes in late November.

The fresh industrial action came after the Communication Workers Union (CWU), which represents Royal Mail staff, rejected the company’s latest pay offer and programme for change, describing it as a “declaration of war on posties”.

On Friday, Royal Mail and the CWU union agreed to hold a week of “intensive talks” from Monday 7 until Tuesday 15 November in an attempt to resolve the pay and change dispute.