Amazon warehouse workers in Italy are striking in outrage at the firm's response to 2 staff contracting coronavirus

Amazon warehouse workers in Italy are striking in outrage at the firm's response to 2 staff contracting coronavirus

17 Mar    Finance News
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis

  • Workers at an Italian Amazon warehouse near Milan are going on strike today to protest the company’s reaction to two of their coworkers testing positive for coronavirus.

  • Amazon said it is following local guidelines and implementing extra safety precautions.

  • Union representatives are unconvinced however, and say the company is putting profits ahead of workers’ health.

  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Workers at the Amazon warehouse in Italy where two employees tested positive for coronavirus earlier in March are on strike to protest the company’s reaction to the crisis. 

Workers at Amazon’s Piacenza warehouse — which is situated just outside Milan in northern Italy and houses 1,100 staff — went on strike on Tuesday, saying that the company isn’t adhering to government rules on the containment of the coronavirus.

Union representatives told La Repubblica that Amazon isn’t implementing proper hygiene and social distancing measures. “For them, business comes ahead of workers’ health,” said Pino De Rosa from local workers’ union UGL Terziario.

A worker from the Piacenza warehouse told Business Insider that tensions between management and the unions started a few weeks ago but that it came to head after meeting between union representatives and management on Monday. “Unfortunately, we had to make the decision to go on strike because we can’t work safely,” the worker said.

An Amazon spokesperson told La Repubblica that the company is complying with local guidelines taking extra precautions, including increasing the frequency of cleaning at the warehouses and amending regular warehouse policies in places where it’s hard to maintain social distance.

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“Chairs in the canteen and common areas have been redistributed, rules for entry, exit, turnstiles, and locker rooms have been revised, and activities that don’t comply with the recommended distance guidelines have been suspended,” the spokesperson said.

According to De Rosa these measures are meaningless. “At entrances, locker rooms, briefings, and security checkpoints, conditions are created where it’s near impossible to maintain separation.” Italy brought in emergency legislation earlier this month requiring people to remain 1 metre apart from one another at all times.

The warehouse worker Business Insider spoke to also said the modifications Amazon has made to working life have not been sufficient. “Hand gel, for example — it’s there but it’s not available because sometimes, unfortunately quite often, the dispensers are empty. Or the spray bottles with the correct alcoholic percentage to kill the virus, unfortunately even they’re not always available,” the worker said. They added that the previous day they’d done a sweep of 50 workstations, and around half of them didn’t have spray bottles.

“We place tremendous value and focus on the well-being, health and safety of our employees, partners and customers,” an Amazon spokeswoman told Business Insider.

“We are strictly following the guidance provided by the Government and the local health authorities to ensure we are implementing the right measures in all our sites across the country. Our teams are working to ensure we can continue to deliver to the most impacted customers, many of whom have no other way to get the items they need,” she added.

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The international workers’ union alliance the UNI Global Union released a statement calling on Amazon to better protect its warehouse workers:

“For office workers, Amazon has restricted travel and asked employees to work from home, but it has not taken equal, adequate measures to address the crisis in its ‘fulfilment centres’ — including consulting with workers and unions. Amazon can and must do better to keep workers safe. Given the confirmation of coronavirus cases in Amazon’s warehouses, the unions of the Amazon Alliance call on the company to open a dialogue with workers and unions, at local, regional, and national levels regarding steps taken to protect workers and subcontractors.”

Three warehouse workers in Spain have also tested positive for the virus, but Amazon has confirmed it will not be shutting down the warehouses.

Amazon is trying to ramp up the presence in its warehouses overall. As more countries move towards social isolation and lockdowns, the company has seen a spike in demand as affected citizens avoid going to shops and move towards online orders instead.

Amazon announced on Monday that it will be hiring 100,000 extra US workers to deal with the influx, as well as upping regular pay by $2 per hour.

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