Amazon under fire for unpaid Christmas helpers

Amazon under fire for unpaid Christmas helpers
Photo: DPA
Online retail giant Amazon has come under fire in Germany for using nearly 1,500 people on the most basic social support as unpaid packers in its logistics centres in the run-up to Christmas.

The company wanted to assess the workers’ potential for longer-term work, Die Welt daily reported this week. It said the majority of those working at the warehouses in Unna and Rheinberg am Niederrhein were kept on. The workers are those on Hartz IV social support, which continues to be paid as they try out for new jobs – at no cost to the potential employer.

But the service industry union Verdi and state labour minister for North Rhine-Westphalia Guntram Schneider, said the workers were being exploited – while their basic incomes were being financed by the state.

“It is simply not acceptable that a company gains a competitive advantage via this kind of state-funded test employment,” Schneider told the paper, and promised that his ministry would check how legal the scheme was.

Verdi said no other mail-order company in Germany used the try-out provision on the scale that Amazon does, adding that the union had long been critical of Amazon’s employment practices in Germany. These include a lack of wage agreement with workers’ councils, no Christmas or holiday pay, and the fact that two thirds of staff are on temporary contracts.

The union also said workers’ hands were constantly scanned electronically and that if they remained inactive twice in five minutes, they received a warning.

Yet the Christian Democrat Union opposition politicians in North Rhine-Westphalia criticised Social Democrat Schneider’s misgivings, saying he was bringing “a very successful work creation scheme into disrepute.”

The regional Labour Office in Düsseldorf said such training measures for Hartz IV recipients were possible for up to four weeks at a time. “I would find it a scandal if we were not longer able to offer them,” said Werner Marquis, manager at the office. He said it was a win-win situation for all parties.

He said one of the warehouses had a personnel take-up rate of 90 percent. “What more do we want?” he asked.

Amazon said in a statement, “We offer untrained workers as well as long-term unemployed a chance of a workplace and a return to working life.”

It said it aimed to take as many of the seasonal workers on long-term as possible.

The Local/hc

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