Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) workers in Germany went on strike today as the country’s largest services union attempts to push the Internet retailer to join collective bargaining agreements and pay higher wages.
Amazon employees in Germany have staged their first ever strikes, disputing over payment and other benefits with the internet retailer. Employees are pushing Amazon to join collective bargaining agreements and pay higher wages. About 1,500 employees, including the staff at main locations in Bad Hersfeld, Hesse, Leipzig, Saxony participated in the walkouts. However, Amazon, has not responded to the requests raised by the union and the issue may aggravate as Ver di union’s chief negotiator told media persons over phone that the union is prepared to take further steps. Ver.di a German trade union, voted on Monday to authorize a strike. Mechthild Medekke, a spokeswoman organizing the workers in Bad Hersfeld plant, told that nearly 97.6 percent of workers at the facility voted for the strike. The employees are demanding the Amazon sign a collective bargaining agreement which will increase the annual pay and benefits of the workers. However, Amazon has declined the proposal saying that the compensation offered to its workers is on par with the local online retailers. The head of Amazon Germany, Ralf Kleber, has rejected the demands, as he said that the workers were working under the ‘logistics’ business’, which involves packing and dispatching articles, rather than the retail and mail order sector, where employees are paid higher wages. Bad Hersfeld employs more than 3,000 employees while the Leipzig plant employs nearly 2,000 people. Amazon, is the world leader in online business and also the market leader in Germany. Its sales in Germany totaled 6.8 billion Euros ($ 8,8 billion), making Germany the second largest market for Amazon after the U.S, and marginally ahead of U.K and Japan.
With 2.1 million members Ver.di is one of the largest independent, individual trade union in the world. Ver.di is an abbreviation of Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, which means “United Service Union”, its headquarters is in Berlin. As part of its demand to increase the pay of its workers Ver.di is asking Amazon to raise the minimum pay to 10.66 Euros ($ 13.84) an hour from the present payment structure of 9.30 Euros in Leipzig and to 12.18 Euros from 9.83 Euros in Bad Hersfeld. The union is also asking the online retailer to enhance the night allowances paid to its workers.
Ver.di wants its workers in the ‘logistic’ unit to be paid on par with the ‘retailing’ workers under the German law, which would qualify them for higher pay and benefits. Recently a documentary aired on ARD Television highlighted the poor working conditions of migratory workers, hired from other countries to deal with the Christmas rush. The company also came under a scathing attack from the German Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen, after the documentary was aired on television. The documentary accused the U.S. group of hiring migrant workers from crisis-hit countries like Spain, Romania and Hungary and housing them in crowded hostels. It is also alleged that the employees were subject to bullying from security personnel with neo-Nazi connections. Amazon, confirmed this incident and terminated the services of the security firm. The job contracts to these migrant workers were not given until they reached Germany. Many migrant workers are understood to have signed the agreement without understanding the commitments and labor implications as translation was not made available. To make matters worse, these workers are not on the payrolls of the company, but on the pay rolls of a labor contractor in Germany. This enables the company to fire the workers in 24 hours without even giving them sufficient notice and send them back to their home countries. The workers are also required to work continuously for weeks without a break. Last winter, during Christmas Eve, nearly 5,000 foreign contract workers were hired in Amazon, with more than 2.000 workers in the Bad Hersfeld warehouse alone. A reported termed this as “modern slavery”.
Temporary employment is an indispensable labor market model, but for some other it is an instrument of exploitation and a source for “cheap unskilled labor”.