French Amazon Workers Strike!

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CGT members marching against pay and pension cuts for gas and electricity workers
CGT members marching against pay and pension cuts for gas and electricity workers

FRENCH trade unions called on Amazon workers to go on strike on Monday, 22 December, less than four days to go before Christmas. Strike action could seriously impact deliveries of last minute presents. France has seen a surge in orders because of strikes in neighbouring Germany.

From Monday, workers at four warehouse sites throughout France downed their tools just days before Christmas, when Amazon is at its busiest time.

Amazon claims that this strike won’t affect their business.

Sebastien Boisonnet, a CGT delegate who called the strike, says industrial action will have a major impact on the US company’s deliveries and will damage Amazon’s reputation that one click online will send a package to your door.

Amazon strikers in Germany went on strike last week which caused the brand to send more of its orders to France to fill.

Boisonnet says that the strike is not to upset customers or to block the trucks delivering Christmas parcels, but for Amazon to pay attention to worker claims.

CGT is calling on Amazon to open negotiations on work conditions and salaries.

40% of Amazon’s staff are members of the CGT union, the first union to organise workers in the company. But there are fewer card-carrying union members in Northern France.

French MPs last Thursday unanimously voted to stop online retailers like Amazon from offering free deliveries on discounted books, in a move to protect the country’s small bookshops.

French law requires publishers to set up a standard selling price for each book published or imported.

Discounts are allowed up to five per cent to protect small shops from competition from big retailers.

Online booksellers like Amazon were previously allowed to offer free deliveries of discounted books, which will now be forbidden.

Culture Minister Aurélie Filipetti said the adoption of the law showed France was committed to protecting booksellers across the country.

The market share for online book sales has expanded from 3.2 per cent in 2003 to over 13 per cent in 2011, according to a parliamentary review.

Meanwhile in Germany, three-day strikes which began on Saturday 15 December at Amazon distribution depots have been extended to Christmas Eve in a dispute over pay and conditions.

‘The strike will enforce their collective agreements. Amazon says itself that it was the largest mail order company in the world, and at the same time is refusing to accept the mail-order collective agreement.

‘Whoever advertises itself by mail order, should also admit that it is a mail-order company,’ Ver.di chairman Frank Bsirske said in a message of greeting to the strikers.

Staff at three warehouses in Bad Hersfeld, Leipzig and Rheinberg, will extend their strike to increase pressure on the online retailer, the workers’ union Ver.di said last Friday.

Ver.di also filed a lawsuit against a decision by regional authorities to allow Amazon staff in two German cities to work on Sunday as the mail-order group stepped up efforts to deliver orders to customers before the Christmas holiday.

Strike action last week had already been extended until Saturday in four of Amazon’s nine distribution centres in Germany and until Xmas Eve at one warehouse.

Ver.di said that more than 2,400 workers took part in walkouts last Friday.

The union wants Amazon staff to be part of the retail industry’s collective bargaining structure.

Amazon designates the staff as logistics workers, but claims they receive above-average pay for this sector.

The company employs about 9,000 staff in Germany.

Despite the disruption, Amazon said customers could order up until midnight on 21 December to get gifts in time for Christmas, or even on 23 and 24 December if they pay for ‘express’ delivery. ‘We deliver reliably,’ an Amazon spokeswoman said.

Ver.di has organised a number of strikes at Amazon since May 2013. In the past, Amazon has drawn on other depots throughout Europe to help meet delivery schedules.

• More than two years after 259 garment workers died in a devastating factory fire in Pakistan, victims’ families have issued a legal notice against German retailer KiK demanding it pays compensation.

Relatives of five workers who perished in the Ali Enterprises fire in Baldia Town, Karachi have sent the legal notice to Germany’s biggest discount textile chain through a German lawyer. KiK was the factory’s only known customer.

In January 2013, KiK signed a compensation agreement with the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research to make an initial compensation of US$1 million to victims but the company has continuously delayed the payments under various pretexts.

KiK claims to take control of the enforcement of labour laws and security standards of its suppliers. However, according to reports, doors were locked and windows barred at the Ali Enterprises factory, with victims unable to escape the fire.

At a Karachi rally organised by IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), and the Baldia Factory Fire Affectees Association on 14 December, speakers called on KIK to pay compensation as per International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards.

Organisers also urged Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, to fulfil his pre-election promise to pay government compensation to the families of victims.

Addressing the rally, which included the children of the victims, NTUF deputy general secretary Nasir Mansoor said that the safety situation in Pakistan’s garment factories had not improved despite the Baldia tragedy: ‘Our factories and industries are still sweatshops and torture places for workers, and resultantly industrial mishaps are happening continuously.

‘Due to non-functional labour inspection the occupational health and safety arrangements in factories are almost non-existent. Local industrialists and their international companies feel it their right to violate local and international labour laws and standards.

‘They suppress the right of workers to form their own unions and earn huge profit by making quality products through cheap labour and selling them in American and European markets on huge profit margin.’

Rally participants demanded that KiK pay Rs 500,000 (US$5,000) per family as interim relief and pay the final compensation according to ILO standards without delay.

The protesters also demanded that compensation of Rs 300,000 (US$3,000) promised by Prime Minister Sharif when he was opposition leader should also be paid immediately otherwise a hunger strike protest camp would be established in January.