Amazon faces Black Friday protests, strikes in 40 countries – including SA

Thousands of Amazon warehouse workers in around 40 countries plan to take part in protests and walkouts alongside sales on Black Friday, one of the busiest days of the year for online shopping.

Workers in the US, UK, India, Japan, Australia, South Africa and across Europe are demanding better wages and working conditions as the cost of living crisis deepens, in a campaign called “Make Amazon Pay”.

The campaign is coordinated by the International Union of Trade Unions, with the support of environmental and civil society groups.

“It’s time for the tech giant to immediately end its horrible, unsafe practices, respect the law and negotiate with workers who want to improve their jobs,” said UNI Global Union General Secretary Christy Hoffman, one of the organizers of the campaign.

Tensions with workers have been a long-standing problem at the e-commerce giant, which has faced complaints about unfair labor practices as well as worker and union activism at some sites. In what was seen as a watershed moment, workers at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York earlier this year voted to unionize.

“While we are not perfect in any area, if you look objectively at what Amazon is doing on these important issues, you will see that we take our role and our impact very seriously,” said Amazon spokesman David Nieberg.

He cited the company’s goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 and that it will “continue to offer competitive wages and great benefits, and invent new ways to keep our employees safe and healthy.”

Unions in France and Germany – CGT and Ver.di – are spearheading the latest joint action, with coordinated strikes at 18 major warehouses, designed to disrupt shipments to key European markets.

Monika di Silvestre, head of Ver.di’s Amazon committee in Germany, said workers were particularly concerned about how their productivity was closely monitored by computers, with algorithms setting targets, for example for the number of packages they had to handle per hour.

“The staff are under a lot of pressure with these algorithms,” she said. “It does not discriminate between workers, whether they are old or with reduced mobility. Employees stay awake at night thinking only about their productivity numbers.”

She urged European politicians to strengthen workers’ rights across the Union. “We don’t have the right to strike in Europe — at the European level,” she said.

In Britain, workers affiliated with the GMB union have organized protests outside several warehouses, including Coventry.

“Amazon workers in Coventry are overworked, underpaid and they’ve had enough,” GMB senior organizer Amanda Gearing said, adding that “hundreds” will be coming together to demand a pay rise from £10.50 an hour to £15.

Any workers who walk off duty could lose out on the second half of the £500 bonus Amazon announced for UK warehouse workers last month. The final payment is subject to staff taking “no unauthorized absences” between Nov. 22 and Dec. 24. The GMB has said that linking payments to attendance could be construed as an illegal inducement to strike.

In the US, protests and rallies will take place in more than 10 cities and outside an apartment block on 5th Avenue, New York, where Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns an apartment. Multiple rallies are also planned in India, while in Japan members of a newly formed union will protest in front of the company’s headquarters in Tokyo. In Bangladesh, garment workers in Amazon’s supply chain will march in Dhaka and Chittagong.

Some of the demonstrations will focus on Amazon’s environmental and social footprint, for example in Ireland where people will gather outside the company’s offices in Dublin to push for two new planned data centers in the city.

In South Africa, protesters will gather near Amazon’s new offices in Cape Town, which are being built on land considered sacred by indigenous people.

Some unions expressed concern about the current economic climate amid warnings from Amazon that the peak Christmas season may not be as busy as usual. The company’s decision to lay off 10,000 workers will also make wage negotiations more difficult.

Laurent Cretin, a representative of the CFE-CGC trade union in France, said the company will have 880 workers at a warehouse in Chalon-sur-Saône for the Christmas season, down from 1,000 before Covid, which he linked to tightening consumer spending and the move. of functionality to robotic warehouses.

“The projections are not great, we’re not sure we’ll do as well as last year which had a post-Covid surge,” he said.

© 2022 Bloomberg LP

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