Amazon faces global protests as Black Friday sales kick off

Amazon-fulfillment-centre-Dandenong burnout

Amazon’s fulfillment centre in Dandenong, Victoria. Source: Revere Agency/AAP.

Australians will be among tens of thousands of others staging protests against Amazon around the world today, using the official start of Black Friday to demonstrate against the e-commerce giant’s working conditions and safety standards. 

A protest at Amazon’s distribution centre in Sydney this morning was led by the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA), which argue Amazon is failing to provide adequate working conditions for transport and warehouse workers.

The TWU and SDA are also concerned about what they say are attempts by Amazon to discourage or prevent workers from working with unions to lobby for better conditions. 

However, in a statement provided to SmartCompany, a spokesperson for Amazon Australia argued these concerns are not shared by Amazon’s Australian employees.

“Amazon provides a safe, quality work environment for our associates, and today’s event, and the notable lack of Amazon associate participation, shows that our team members know this to be true,” they said.

The Sydney event was part of a broader series of global protests against Amazon, timed to coincide with Black Friday. 

Events are planned in Bangladesh, Brazil, France, India, Italy, Luxembourg, the Philippines, Poland, Sweden and the US, while German trade union Verdi is leading three-day strikes at Amazon warehouses to demand improvements to worker pay and conditions. 

Workers in the UK are unable to protest due to coronavirus restrictions, and will therefore participate in an online event. 

The coordinated protests are reportedly part of a “make Amazon pay” campaign, convened by trade union federation UNI Global and Progressive International — a global coalition that includes economist Yanis Varoufakis, who has urged people to boycott Amazon on Black Friday. 

The campaign has a long list of concerns about Amazon’s actions, or lack thereof, in a range of areas: from workers’ rights and conditions and tax avoidance to environmental impact and privacy concerns. 

Amazon has previously dominated Black Friday sales — now a permanent event in the retail calendar, including in Australia — and is offering extensive discounts again this year. 

It comes against a backdrop of dizzying profits made by the company during the pandemic, as online retail sales exploded amid lockdowns around the world. 

At one point in April, Amazon was reportedly making sales of US$11,000 a second, leading to a dramatic surge in its share price, and contributing even more to the already immense wealth of chief executive Jeff Bezos. 

Many smaller Australian companies sell products via Amazon’s Australian marketplace, although some have previously spoken out about the relative high cost of trying to sell via the platform when few sales were being placed. 

Today’s protest in Sydney is focused on workers’ rights, and also coincides with a Federal Court appearance this week by the SDA on behalf of a labour-hire worker at Amazon’s Sydney fulfillment centre, who is arguing the company did not offer her a permanent role because she was pregnant. 

“The case highlights the precarious nature of insecure work,” said SDA NSW Secretary Bernie Smith in a statement. 

“If she had been directly hired from the beginning of her work for Amazon, our member would be looking forward to the birth of her child secure in the knowledge she would be taking parental leave and returning to her work with Amazon. Instead, she faces uncertainty and a court case.”

TWU’s NSW state secretary Richard Olsen said in the same statement that Amazon, and other companies that use gig-style work arrangements, are “attempting to normalise worker exploitation under the guise of innovation”. 

“Amazon is a retail giant that has made record profits during the pandemic, but is well known around the world for its awful treatment of workers,” he said.

The dangerous conditions Amazon imposes on transport and warehouse workers have no place in global industry standards and certainly not in Australia.”


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