Thousands of Amazon workers in a number of European countries have gone on strike today to demand better working conditions.
Workers in Germany will join colleagues from Spain and Italy in demanding labour contracts that guarantee healthy working conditions at so-called “fulfilment centres” run by the world’s largest e-commerce company.
The mass walkout is planned to coincide with a major sales promotion, known as Amazon Prime Day, which runs until midnight and is one of the retail giant’s busiest sales days of the year.
A group called Amazon En Lucha organised the walk out at the company’s fulfilment centre just outside the Spanish capital of Madrid yesterday, with those on strike picketing the warehouse wearing masks of chief executive Jeff Bezos, CNBC reports.
The company’s warehouse conditions have come under intense scrutiny in the past few years. An investigation by the Sunday Mirror last year outlined how workers had timed toilet breaks and strict targets, with many falling asleep on the warehouse floor.
Amazon reponded by insisting that it is a fair and responsible employer: “We believe in continuous improvement across our network and maintain an open and direct dialogue with associates,” a spokesperson for the company said.
“Amazon has invested over 15 billion EUR and created over 65,000 permanent jobs across Europe since 2010. These are good jobs with highly competitive pay, full benefits, and innovative training programs like Career Choice that pre-pays 95% of tuition for associates. We provide safe and positive working conditions, and encourage anyone to come see for themselves by taking a tour at one of our fulfillment centers.”
A Freedom of Information request also revealed that ambulances have been called out 600 times to Amazon’s UK warehouses in the past three years. But a spokesperson for Amazon responded by saying that “it is simply not correct to suggest that we have unsafe working conditions based on ambulance call out data or on unsubstantiated anecdotes. The facts clearly show claims to the contrary are simply wrong and misleading when attempting to portray Amazon as an unsafe workplace. Requests for ambulance services at our fulfillment centers are predominantly associated with personal health events and are not work related.”
The online retailer noted that ambulance visits were “dramatically low” compared with other employers.
Workers at Amazon centres have repeatedly protested against the company’s long hours, tough working conditions, and high-pressure “rush” periods, such as around Prime Day and Black Friday.
Stefanie Nutzenberger, Verdi services union’s top official responsible for the retail sector, said “The message is clear – while the online giant gets rich, it is saving money on the health of its workers”.
Forbes reports that a growing number of online workers, gamers, and shoppers plan to boycott Amazon over its treatment of low-level workers and to get the company’s attention on these issues, “organisers hope their boycott will make a dent in Amazon’s bottom line”.
However, with sales in Germany, Amazon’s second largest national market after the United States, rising by 20% last year alone to $17 billion, the boycott will just be a drop in the ocean to the world’s biggest retailer.