Amazon workers protest at some German, French sites on Black Friday

The Make Amazon Pay initiative said industrial action was planned in more than 30 countries. PHOTO: REUTERS

Some workers at Amazon sites in Germany and France downed tools on Black Friday, as part of a move across the world to target the online retailer on one of the busiest shopping days of the year with calls for better pay.

The Make Amazon Pay initiative, which made the call for strikes, said industrial action was planned in more than 30 countries, including the United States.

In Germany, there were demonstrations at nine out of Amazon’s 20 warehouses in the country, although on Friday morning, the company said the vast majority of its employees in Germany were working as normal.

France’s SUD and CGT unions called for strike action in the country’s eight warehouses.

Amazon France said there had been no sign of disruption to operations so far. Two French union officials said they were not expecting a big turnout because the rising cost-of-living was driving employees to seek overtime.

The Verdi union, which called the strikes in Germany, demanded the company recognise collective bargaining agreements for the retail and mail order trade sector. It also called for a further collective agreement on workers’ wellbeing, with one Verdi spokesman noting that warehouse employees can walk 15-20 km per day on the job.

French unions called for a higher cash bonus for the period preceding Christmas, during which employees at warehouses are asked to do a lot of overtime work.

“As an employer, Amazon offers great pay, benefits and development opportunities - all in an attractive and safe working environment,” a spokesman for Amazon in Germany said in a statement.

Among other things, the spokesman pointed to a wage increase for Amazon logistics employees in Germany from September, with the starting wage now at 13 euros (S$18.60) per hour or more, including bonus payments.

The average wage after two years of work is more than 35,000 euros gross per year, Amazon Germany said, adding that they include extras such as subsidies for public transport and company pension plans.

Workers at a warehouse in the western city of Koblenz were seen standing outside near a red-and-white banner that read “We’re on strike” in German, French and English.

“With the small... salary you earn, you can no longer live in these times,” one worker and father of three said.

In Germany, inflation is currently at its highest rate in decades at over 10 per cent. A Verdi spokesman in Koblenz called the recent wage increase “a drop in the bucket” at 3 per cent.

A spokesman for Amazon in France said that all warehouse employees earning less than 3,100 euros per month would receive a one-time bonus of 500 euros, on top of a 150-euro end-of-year bonus agreed with the unions.

France’s SUD union was asking for a Black Friday bonus of 1,000 euros, which is double that of the payment offered by Amazon, as well as a 150 euro bonus per weekend worked in the fourth quarter.

SUD official Mathieu Ciserane said that 60 people were demonstrating in front of the Bretigny-sur-Orge site near Paris this morning, with another 50 staying at home out of a total 5,000 full-time and temporary employees at that location.

In another development, Amazon will shut down a food-delivery business it was testing in India, the e-commerce giant said on Friday, a day after it announced the winding down of its online learning platform for high-school students in the country.

Amazon Food, a business the company was trialing in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru, would be discontinued, it said.

“As part of our annual operating planning review process, we have made the decision to discontinue Amazon Food,” a company spokeman told Reuters. “We don’t take these decisions lightly. We are discontinuing these programmes in a phased manner to take care of current customers and partners.”

The Economic Times earlier reported that the business would be discontinued from Dec 29 onwards, citing a communication from the company to its restaurant partners.

On Thursday, Amazon said it was shutting down the Amazon Academy platform in India that was launched early last year amid a boom in virtual learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.

An uncertain macroeconomic environment is making the e-commerce giant review its global workforce, as the company plans to lay off around 10,000 employees in corporate and technology roles, Reuters reported last week. REUTERS

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