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STRIKES

‘Upping the pressure’: Hundreds of German Amazon workers strike for pay deal

Hundreds of workers walked out at Amazon sites across Germany Monday to press for a binding pay and conditions agreement and highlight coronavirus risks, but the company has so far brushed off their demands.

'Upping the pressure': Hundreds of German Amazon workers strike for pay deal
Archive photo shows a strike in Werne in 2018. Photo: DPA

“We're upping the pressure as Amazon has so far given no sign of understanding and is endangering employees' health for company profits,” Orhan Akman, a representative for service workers' union Verdi, said in a statement.

Local worker representatives estimated that up to 450 employees joined the strike at an Amazon logistics centre in the western town of Rheinberg.

READ ALSO: Amazon workers in Germany stage strike on 'Black Friday'

Walkouts were also planned to last into Tuesday in Werne, Leipzig, Bad Hersfeld and Koblenz, some accompanied by protests.

Akman highlighted a recent coronavirus outbreak in Bad Hersfeld with “30 to 40 colleagues infected” as one pressing reason for the labour conflict.

As well as improved measures to protect workers' health, the union wants Amazon to sign on to regional wage agreements covering retail and e-commerce stores — a battle Verdi has been waging for years.

Opposition Greens party co-leader Annalena Baerbock backed the strike, calling for “fair wages, dignified working conditions and above all a collective bargaining agreement” at Amazon.

But the company said that it already pays wages “at the upper end of the scale for comparable work”, adding that it offers “chances for many people to develop their careers and above all a safe working environment”.

It highlighted $4 billion of spending worldwide on measures to protect employees and customers from coronavirus infection, from hand disinfectant to protective masks.

The strike will have “no influence on maintaining deliveries, as the vast majority of employees are working as normal,” Amazon said.

Amazon says it employs around 13,000 full-time workers at its 13 German logistics centres, with thousands more seasonal workers.

READ ALSO: 'We fear rising rent prices': Berliners protest against planned Amazon offices

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CHRISTMAS

Strikes hit Amazon in Germany in the run up to Christmas

Around 2,500 Amazon employees at seven sites across Germany were on strike on Tuesday and unions warned stoppages could continue up to Christmas.

Amazon parcel in factory
A parcel rolls along a conveyor belt at an Amazon packing facility in Gera, Thuringia. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Bodo Schackow

The strikes at so-called “fulfilment” centres, where Amazon prepares packages before delivery, began in two locations on Monday.

The Verdi union is calling on Amazon for an “immediate” salary increase of three percent this year, followed by a further 1.7 percent next year, in line with a collective agreement for the retail sector, to which the e-commerce giant does not adhere.

Amazon could not continue to “refuse wage increases that other companies in the sector pay”, Verdi retail head Orhan Akman said in a statement Monday.

Amazon, which operates 17 centres in Germany, argues it is a logistics company, a sector in which the terms of work are considered to be less burdensome for the employer.

Amazon said it did not expect the strike to have an impact on clients.

However, a Verdi spokesman said the stoppage could cause disruption, particularly in Amazon’s rapid-delivery “Prime” offering.

Strikes were likely to continue “until the end of the year”, the spokesman said, impacting on the busy Christmas shopping period.

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Verdi, which first called for strikes at Amazon in May 2013, organised demonstrations outside the fulfilment centres on Tuesday to protest poor working conditions.

Amazon — which has seen its business boom during the coronavirus pandemic as consumers increasingly shopped online — announced in September that it would open eight new centres in Germany, creating 3,000 jobs by 2022.

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