industrial relations

Dark side of Black Friday: Amazon workers protest “inhumane conditions” on shopping holiday

Matthew Elmas /

Amazon Australia

Source: Jakub Kaczmarczyk.

The increasing prevalence of shopping holidays such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday has delivered more sales for retailers across the world as well as hot deals for consumers.

But all those packages have to be processed, and the workers getting the job done in e-commerce giant Amazon’s European fulfilment centres are fed up.

Last week, amid the Black Friday rush, workers in warehouses in Italy, Germany, Spain and the UK walked off the job to protest low wages and what they say are unsafe working conditions.

Reuters reported more than 600 workers protested in Germany, where Amazon pays a starting salary of about $12 an hour.

In the UK, where workers have recently been given a pay rise, union GMB said conditions in British warehouses were “inhumane”.

“The conditions our members at Amazon are working under are frankly inhuman. They are breaking bones, being knocked unconscious and being taken away in ambulances,” GMB general secretary Tim Roache said in a statement posted on GMB’s website.

“Jeff Bezos is the richest bloke on the planet; he can afford to sort this out.”

The protests are the latest instance of tensions boiling to the surface between warehouse workers and Amazon, as scrutiny over the underbelly of online shopping grows.

In Australia, where Amazon uses labour-hire companies to staff its warehouse in Melbourne, there has been criticism over workplace conditions.

In September the e-commerce giant shot down claims its Australian warehouses were a “hellscape”, which surfaced in a Fairfax Media investigation.

In the company’s home market, sustained pressure from politicians such as Senator Bernie Sanders prompted it to improve pay and conditions for warehouse workers earlier this year.

An Amazon spokesperson said its European DCs were fully operational during Black Friday and that it respects the rights of groups and invidiauls to have a voice.

“Amazon is a fair and responsible employer.  We believe in continuous improvement across our network and maintain an open and direct dialogue with our associates.  Amazon has invested over 27 billion EUR and created over 75,000 permanent jobs across Europe since 2010,” the spokesperson said.

“We provide safe and positive working conditions, and encourage anyone to come see for themselves by taking a tour at one of our fulfilment centres.”

This story was updated on November 30 at 9:07 AM AEDT to include comment from Amazon.

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Matthew Elmas

Matthew is the news editor at SmartCompany.

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