Amazon steps up UK expansion drive with new distribution center

LONDON (Reuters) – Amazon <AMZN.O> said on Friday it would open a new distribution center in Bolton, northwest England, in 2018, stepping up its expansion drive in its third-largest market outside North America.

Amazon has 16 distribution centers in Britain and the new center will be supported by advanced robotics technology to help lift and move products around the plant. It will also employ 1,200 new, full-time permanent people, the company said.

The new jobs mean the online retailer will have created 3,500 jobs in the region, including Bolton and two other centers, one in Manchester set up in 2016 and another in Warrington, which opened this year.

It said that, including operating costs, it had invested 6.4 billion pounds ($8.3 billion) in Britain since 2010 in logistics, order filling, research and development and head office functions.

Following criticism from politicians about weak worker protection, the company has been increasingly employing its warehouse staff directly, rather than indirectly via contract firms which offer little employment security.

On Friday it set out the levels of pay, stock options, pensions and training that would be available for any new employee. Salaries start at 7.65 pounds per hour, but also include a variety of management, engineering and support roles.

Northwest England received a blow on Tuesday when major employer BAE Systems announced the cut of 750 highly skilled jobs at two aircraft manufacturing plants in Lancashire.

The Bolton center will ship easily sortable items to customers that lend themselves to current robotics technology, including books, toys and kitchenware.

The online retailer has expanded rapidly in Britain in recent years, and is looking for the new distribution plants to expand its product selection and enable more small and medium enterprises to sell their own wares through Amazon Marketplace. Half of all units stocked in British centers are from outside firms.

Separately this week, Booths, a high-end supermarket chain located in the north of England, said it would begin offering a range of its products online through AmazonFresh for home delivery to consumers in London and southeastern England.

(Reporting by Kate Holton and Eric Auchard; Editing by Paul Sandle and Adrian Croft)