Amazon confrontation in France serves as test for workers’ rights

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(Bloomberg) – When France ordered Amazon.com Inc. to stop deliveries of non-essential items to protect workers, e-commerce giant Silicon Valley responded by stopping all orders until ‘at least Monday.

The company said the order to sell only essential food, hygiene and health products and to modernize its health and safety procedures was too ambiguous. Critics have accused Amazon of playing a game of hardball on pouty. The eminent French comedian Nicolas Canteloup joked: “We are closing five days to sulk. “

Amazon sales are increasing, reflecting strong demand for video game groceries and streaming movies for customers stuck at home during global locks to slow the spread of Covid-19. But it forced delivery drivers and warehouse workers to keep showing up for work, and some complained that they didn’t feel safe. Amazon fired three employees in the United States who criticized the working conditions in its warehouses.

France, with a history of relatively strong protections for workers and powerful unions, has become a flashpoint. The country’s actions could set a precedent for governments around the world seeking to impose potentially costly restrictions on the business.

Amazon defended itself, saying it had already taken care to protect workers. He argued that the decision was not clear. He also risked fines of 1 million euros ($ 1.1 million) per day if he was not followed. The company is appealing.

“Despite the considerable efforts that we have made in our distribution centers to preserve the safety of our workers, the court has issued us an order that requires us to close temporarily,” said Amazon France chief Frédéric Duval on the RTL radio, during one of its interviews, made Thursday plea of ​​the company. “The action of the unions will have important consequences for the French population.”

Duval said he did not know when the company’s six distribution centers across the country would reopen. In an email to customers on Thursday, he said Amazon would attempt to fulfill French orders from warehouses located outside the country, a move that puts pressure on unions and the government while employees French remain inactive.

The shutdown was the culmination of weeks of conflict with government and unions. In March, French Minister of Labor Muriel Penicaud said that while it was important to preserve the supply of “necessary goods”, the safety standards of Amazon workers were “insufficient”. Inspectors were dispatched to verify the conditions of the employees.

Shortly before 10 p.m. Wednesday evening, Amazon sent a brief email to some of its warehouse workers to warn them that the company had made the “difficult decision” to stop operations in distribution centers. According to the message, Bloomberg told employees that they should stay home, but that they would receive full wages.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the memo.

It is unclear whether Amazon will be able to rely on a state plan to compensate workers on leave. An internal employee memo seen by Bloomberg said the company plans to access the funds, but a spokesperson said it had not been confirmed.

“Employees during this period must continue to receive their wages from Amazon, including temporary workers. They are committed to it, but it’s still the law, “said Penicaud in an interview with LCI.

Amazon has 10,000 employees in France and 6,500 in its six warehouses, a spokesperson for the company said in March. France is Amazon’s third largest market in Europe.

The company made a consistent business choice by shutting down, said Edouard Nattee, a former Amazon employee who is now managing director of data analytics company Foxintelligence.

“From an operational and profitability perspective, Amazon can hardly isolate 8% of their sales – the essentials – since the items are shipped at random to its distribution centers,” he said.

France is also a challenge from a sales perspective, where they are struggling to gain ground over their competitors, said Nattee.

“Overall, Amazon is a success in this crisis, in Germany, in the United Kingdom, they behave enormously. But in France, it’s not as rosy, they are below their market share before confinement, “he said. “They lost on the delivery schedule their number one competitive advantage over the competition. “

Amazon sales have increased 11% in Germany, it’s the largest European market, 45% in the United Kingdom and 56% in Spain since March 2, according to a Foxintelligence report. But in France, Amazon grew only 8% and did not gain market share from local competitors, such as CDiscount owned by Casino Guichard-Perrachon SA or Fnac Darty SA, according to the report.

For Laurent Degousee of SUD, the union that launched the lawsuit that led to the court order, “Amazon did nothing for the employees, but they did it only under pressure from workers, unions and government. They piled up rules without a clear plan. It is not finished. ”

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.



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