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Amazon workers strike in Germany over Covid-19 handling concerns

Image credit: DT

Workers at six German Amazon sites are going on strike to protest the company’s handling of employee health and safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Criticisms of Amazon’s treatment of warehouse workers has mounted during the pandemic, during which many staff have tested positive for Covid-19 after reportedly being forced to work without provision of PPE, and others have claimed that they have been kept in the dark about the status of their colleagues and how to respond when they fall ill. Amazon has so far declined to share data on how many of its warehouse workers have been infected with Covid-19.

Germany’s second largest trade union, Verdi, said that the “good and healthy work” strike would begin on Monday’s night shift and last for at least 48 hours. Orhan Akman, head of retail and mail order at Verdi, told Deutsche Welle: “We are stepping up the pace because Amazon is not showing [at this point] any insight and is endangering the health of employees in favour of profit.”

He said that there had been outbreaks affecting “at least 30 or 40 colleagues” at Amazon distribution centres in Bad Hersfeld.

The strikes will affect Amazon fulfilment centres in Bad Hersfeld, Leipzig, Rheinberg, Werne and Koblenz.

In a statement to Reuters, Amazon rejected claims that dozens of workers had been infected at its Bad Hersfeld sites. It said that as of June it has invested $4bn in protection for its employees against Covid-19, including almost half a billion bottles of hand sanitiser, 21 million pairs of gloves, 19 million masks, and 39 million boxes of disinfectant wipes.

Germany is Amazon’s largest market after the US. Amazon has been facing a years-long battle with Verdi, which has been organising strikes since 2013 over a dispute regarding wages. The union is seeking a collective bargaining agreement for all 13,000 permanent fulfilment centre employees, which it aligns with the retail and mail-order industries. Amazon has insisted that its wages are at the upper end in this sector and that it is a “fair and responsible employer”.

In the US, Amazon fired a handful of employees who had organised protests against its treatment of workers during the pandemic; this led to an Amazon VP resigning in response to what he described as Amazon’s “chickenshit” response and a troubling power imbalance at the company. More than a dozen state Attorney Generals have openly criticised Amazon over its treatment of warehouse workers, with New York Attorney General Letitia James warning Amazon that it may have broken the law in firing at least one of the protest organisers.

In April, Amazon closed six of its French fulfilment centres amid a legal dispute with trade unions over employee health and safety. It gradually began reopening the sites in May.

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