Tech

This is crazy: Rage boils over at Amazon sites over coronavirus risks

Amazon faces a rash of strikes and protests at sites across Europe as warehouse workers lash out over what they say are gruelling labor conditions, minimal protection and the risk of infection after several employees tested positive for coronavirus.

The outrage in Italy, Spain and France — among the countries worst-hit by the virus — is testing the e-commerce giants ability to keep operating its labor-intensive warehouses amid surging demand and radical containment measures.

Like other tech giants, Amazon has ordered office staff to work from home and abide by social distancing rules rolled out in many countries. But at the vast warehouses where the company processes orders for shipment, known as fulfilment centers, workers are still expected to show up and in many cases work overtime to meet exploding demand — including in Italy, which is currently the outbreaks global epicenter and where millions of people are under orders to remain home.

“This is crazy,” said Gianpaolo Meloni, a worker at a fulfilment center in Castel San Giovanni, in northern Italy. “I cant walk in the streets because the police will stop me if I dont have a proper reason. Why do I have to go into the fulfilment center and work surrounded by thousands of people?”

In a statement to POLITICO detailing its coronavirus response, an Amazon spokesperson said the firm had increased cleaning at all facilities, canceled non-critical meetings and introduced social distancing measures including removing or spacing out furniture at warehouses and staggering employees breaks, in addition to encouraging them to wash their hands. The firm has also pledged to give employees who are diagnosed with coronavirus or placed in quarantine up to two weeks of pay.

“This company is using our health to make a big fortune” — Agnieszka Mróz, packer in Amazons warehouse in Poznań, Poland

“As demand continues to increase, we are working to ensure we can continue to deliver to the most impacted customers while keeping our people safe,” the statement read. “We also have a process in place so that employees who are unable to work overtime for personal reasons are able to speak with managers and map out a schedule that works for them.”

But such measures are far from being enough for many Amazon workers. Under financial pressure, many say they have no choice but to keep working, and they are outraged that the company has kept operating warehouses in Italy and Spain even after employees in those locations tested positive for the virus.

In Italy, the Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL) has organized a strike at the warehouse in Castel San Giovanni and announced a “state of agitation” in other facilities in Piedmont and Passo Corese, near Rome. In France, 200-300 workers protested outside their warehouse in Saran, a city south of Paris, demanding Amazon close it down.

Meanwhile, Spanish union Comisiones Obreras (CC.OO) has lodged an official complaint to labor authorities about Amazons response to the crisis, and in Poland unionized workers — who are actually serving the German market — voiced outrage over their working conditions.

“People are afraid,” said Agnieszka Mróz, a packer in Amazons warehouse in Poznań in western Poland and an activist at Inicjatywa Pracownicza (the Workers Initiative), a trade union. “This company is using our health to make a big fortune.”

We are giving our lives

The growing outrage in Europe underscores a paradox for Amazon, whose share price has so far held up better than other Silicon Valley giants during the crisis: The virus is a direct risk to the health of thousands of warehouse workers, but demand is off the charts.

To keep up with the surge, the company has said it would hire 100,000 additional workers in the U.S., and will no longer take in non-essential goods from third-party sellers, who account for about a third of the total offerings on the site.

But for the workers and unions in Europe, bringing in more people will only compound the risk of transmission, and put them at greater risk. The very nature of the job, they argue — criss-crossing other workers in a race to grab and stack packages and meet numerical productivity targets — goes against the principle of social distancing.

“If we have to wash our hands additionally, workers will be afraid to do it in fear that they will not meet their targets,” said Mróz.

Workers in Poland, where Amazon does not operate a web shop, are particularly aggrieved as they have yet to benefit from the hourly wage increases that Amazon has rolled out in other countries (of $2 in the U.S., £2 in the U.K. and €2). Amazon says it is negotiating a salary increase with Polish union representatives.

Workers on temporary contracts may be more willing to ignore health warnings | Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images

Mróz — one of 11,000 workers from the villages surrounding Amazons Poznań warehouse to hitch a bus ride to work each day — says Polish workers like her earn 20 zlotys (around €4.40) per hour before tax, far below what their colleagues in the eurozone are earning.

“Polish people are coming from their villages to send boxes to Germany. We are giving ourRead More – Source

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