PARIS – Amazon is gradually reopening its warehouses in France after having developed security measures against viruses with the unions, with the aim of ending weeks of legal troubles which have greatly reduced the French activities of the company and attracted attention of the whole world.
In a victory for the unions, French courts ruled last month that Amazon had not done enough to protect thousands of French workers from the coronavirus. As a result, the world’s largest online retailer has closed its six French warehouses – just as global demand has exploded as stores were closed by virus restrictions.
After protracted negotiations, Amazon began a three-week reopening process on Tuesday.
“This is a great victory for Amazon workers in France”, as well as for those who have complained about the weak protection against viruses, said Stéphane Enjalran, national secretary of the Union Sud Solidaire de France, who led the legal process as the largest union in Amazon.
French unions have been in contact with Amazon workers in the United States, Italy, Poland and beyond, Enjalran told The Associated Press. He expressed the hope that French court decisions could encourage them – or workers in other companies in France – to demand better security against viruses.
Amazon said all of the necessary measures had already been put in place before the temporary closure, and that it has made no major changes since then. “Our sites are safe and always have been,” he said in a statement.
Unions dispute this, saying the company has taken weeks to provide workers with masks and gel, and flouted the rigorous consultation process with French unions. They say Amazon hasn’t done enough to impose social distancing, to make sure the turnstiles and personal storage areas are free of viruses, or to increase the cleaning of its warehouses – and two French courts have agreed .
New security measures in French warehouses include stricter social distancing rules, monitoring by a new independent expert and radical changes in the supply chain to reduce the number of people allowed to work in the same place at the same time, a said Enjalran.
“The most important thing is that there is a dialogue between management and workers that has not happened before,” he said.
Amazon is currently hosting training sessions for French warehouse staff, in a small group at a time, on virus protection measures, its French director Frédéric Duval said on public broadcaster France-Info on Tuesday.
Duval called the reopening “excellent news” for workers, customers and French businesses selling through Amazon. He said the company is committed to “the safety of our workers” and adapts its practices based on the advice of government health officials. Employees were paid during the closing of the warehouses.
Unions have hailed court rulings as a comeuppance for Amazon, saying the company puts profits above security as the virus spreads rapidly in France.
At least a dozen Amazon workers contracted the coronavirus before the warehouses closed, and one is still hospitalized, said Enjalran.
Amazon continued to carry out certain activities in France even when its warehouses were closed, serving in particular as a platform for companies that sell on the site but manage the delivery themselves.
The company has threatened to take the case to France’s highest court, but said on Tuesday it would drop the case after consultation with unions is over.
Amazon did not say how much money the company had lost as a result of the closings. It dominates the online delivery market in France, with € 431 million in revenue in 2018 and 11,000 employees. The company’s global sales skyrocketed in the first quarter of this year, but profits fell due to higher delivery costs and virus protection.
Amazon has become a lifeline for many buyers as much of the world has been stranded due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it has also resulted in delivery delays and growing complaints from workers worried about contagion while on the job .
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.
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