Amazon Employees In Germany Go On Strike During Holiday Season

German employees of the online retail giant Amazon have gone on strike over a pay dispute, in the middle of the busiest shopping period of the year.

For months, the unions have demanded a pay based on standards in the wider online retail industry, stopping work several times and using industrial action over Christmas as their last bargaining chip. But despite more than a thousand staff walking out, Amazon claims there have been no delays to deliveries.

According to Reuters, warehouses in Bad Hersfeld, Leipzig and Graben have gone on strike on Monday morning. Protesters will also travel to Amazon’s US headquarters in Seattle, Washington.

A matter of opinion

For Amazon, Germany is the second largest market after the US. The company employs around 9,000 people to run its warehouses there, along with an army of 14,000 ‘Seasonal Fulfilment Associates’ for busy periods like Christmas. The pay for these workers starts at € 9.55 (£8.06) an hour.

For several months, the Verdi union has been asking for higher wages and longer contracts for Amazon warehouse employees, similar to those enjoyed by the rest of the mail order and retail industry. In response, Amazon kept saying that it considers Bad Hersfeld and Leipzig not retail but logistics operations, and the wages correspond to those in the relevant sector.

Even after the strike date was set to December 16 – the busiest online shopping day of 2012 – the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement. According to Reuters, around 1,115 staff from nine distribution centres have gone on strike at three sites on Monday.

Despite losing a huge chunk of its workforce, Amazon said that no delays to deliveries were reported, or expected. “Our customers can continue to rely on us for the prompt delivery of their Christmas presents,” said a spokeswoman for the company.

Last month, Amazon’s UK operation was heavily criticised after the BBC journalist Adam Littler managed to get a job at the company’s Swansea warehouse. An expert on work stress later said that Littler’s undercover reporting suggested the job carried “increased risk of mental illness and physical illness.”

Amazon workers in Bad Hersfeld are expected to protest until the end of the week, and in Leipzig – until Wednesday. The town of Werne will join the protest on Tuesday.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently revealed that the company is is testing package delivery using airborne drones with a view to launching an Amazon Prime Air service sometime around 2018.

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Max Smolaks

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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