Amazon accused of abusing Christmas staff

Amazon accused of abusing Christmas staff
Photo: DPA
Internet retail giant Amazon promised to investigate after a television documentary showed foreign workers brought to Germany on temporary contracts for the Christmas rush being intimidated by suspected neo-Nazi security guards.

The film, broadcast on state ARD television on Wednesday night showed Spanish workers talking about security guards searching the places they were staying in – and that these were shoddy hotels and abandoned holiday camps.

The film alleges the workers were brought to Germany under false promises – only getting work with contractors rather than with Amazon itself. They were paid €8.52 an hour before taxes – and only discovered this two days after leaving home.

Some workers had to walk up to 17 kilometres a day to work, and were expected to work for 15 days without a break. Money was docked from their pay to cover their lodgings.

Film maker Diana Löbl s told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that workers were watched 24 hours a day. “Initially during their eight-hour shifts in the warehouses,” she said. “Then in their accommodation by a dubious security company, which is run by far-right extremists”, she said.

The documentary makers said their work was repeatedly disrupted by security guards, some of whom wore Thor Steinar clothes favoured by the German neo-Nazi scene. A security firm named H.E.S.S. was also linked to the far-right in the film.

One scene in the film shows how the journalists were physically shoved around by the guards. And later they left a holiday camp where workers were staying, under police protection.

“We felt threatened,” she added. “We were stuck in our room for nearly an hour until we could leave with police protection.”

Service union Verdi has called for improvements in conditions for such workers. Hainer Raimann, Amazon expert at the union said the company offered jobs abroad after workers who had worked at home were so turned off at conditions in warehouses at home they refused to return.

Amazon said it had around 7,700 staff at its logistics centres in Graben near Augsburg, Bad Hersfeld, Leipzig, Rheinberg, Werne, Pforzheim and Koblenz.

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“During the Christmas season we take on additional Amazon seasonal workers,” a statement from the company released on Thursday read. It also confirmed that the firm worked with temporary work agencies. It said that workers earned pre-tax wages of at least €9.30 an hour which increased later to more than €10 an hour.

“Even if the security firms were not contracted by Amazon, we are of course checking the allegations made by the journalists about their behaviour and will immediately take appropriate measures,” the statement continued.

No intimidation or discrimination would be tolerated, it said.

The Local/DPA/hc

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